For the first time, professional snooker players have been drug tested out of competition.

UK Sport has confirmed that five such tests took place from July to September of this year.

“This is the first time we’ve done it in snooker, although out of competition testing is nothing new for us,” a UK Sport spokesman told me.

He added that the WPBSA “can request out of competition testing whereas in competition testing is conducted on a random basis.”

Put bluntly, this means that if the WPBSA suspect a player to be taking an illegal substance they can have them tested.

“World Snooker has the authority to test players in and out of competition in accordance with our anti-doping policy,” a WPBSA spokesman told me.

Indeed it does.

And indeed it should.

Any professional sport should ensure that its house is fully in order and free from speculation about the behaviour of its participants.

Snooker was one of the first sports to implement a drugs testing programme in 1985.

It followed lurid newspaper reports that Kirk Stevens was a cocaine user, later confirmed by Stevens himself. He never failed a test at a tournament, though.

There have been relatively few instances of players failing drugs tests. When they have they tend to be either through taking a cold cure and not checking the contents or through using social drugs such as cannabis.

Famously, Ronnie O’Sullivan was stripped of the 1998 Irish Masters title after testing positive for cannabis during the event.

Out of competition testing may turn up further instances of players using illegal substances between tournaments – stop and test 100 people at random in the street and you’ll find at least three or four who have recently used drugs.

But do drugs enhance performance in snooker?

In his autobiography, O’Sullivan writes of how he was taking Prozac when he won the 2001 World Championship.

This is not a banned substance. It was medically prescribed and I would argue enabled O’Sullivan’s performance rather than enhanced it.

Similarly in the 1980s Neal Foulds was unfairly dragged into a row over Beta Blockers, which he had been medically prescribed and perfectly entitled to take.

I can’t think of many substances a player could take between tournaments to enhance how they play in it.

To be very blunt, snorting a line of cocaine a fortnight before playing in a tournament is not going to improve a player’s performance in it but it is, of course, illegal.

There is not a drugs problem in snooker. The amount of positive tests over the years is far smaller than in most other sports.

However, I think out of competition testing in snooker makes sense as it is commonplace in other sports.

I do not know whether the WPBSA asked UK Sport to test specific players or whether the five tests done so far were based on random selection.

I asked the WPBSA to clarify the process for out of competition testing but have received no reply.

In contrast, UK Sport could not have been more helpful. Their spokesman told me: “the governing body can request that we test a player. There is no need for the player to be notified in advance.”

In this case, the WPBSA must ensure players know that if drugs testers turn up they should co-operate. ‘Failure to comply’ is considered to be as serious an offence as failing a test.

The British 400m runner Christine Ohuruogu missed three tests and received a ban, although she later won gold medals at the World Championship and Beijing Olympics.

One thing is for sure: should any player fail a test or fail to take a test we will find out.

The WPBSA disciplinary process is cloaked in unnecessary secrecy but UK Sport publishes all its drug findings in quarterly reports.


Anonymous said...

Does this mean that snooker players will have to give "whereabouts" information as they do in other sports... so that they can be located in time for a test?

Claus Christensen said...

I think most is this is quite ridiculous, especially relating to the time when O'Sullivan was stripped of his title. For smoking pot! Professional sports such as cycling or athletics need rules and laws because marginal improvements can make all the difference. But snooker? It should not be right to punish players for breaking the law when it is clearly irrelevant in relation to their game. Such as speeding or enjoying a joint. Being a saint should not be a prerequisite for being a snooker player.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me when, if ever the players are going to be told about this?

bongo said...

I think it's good news for snooker, players should never take drugs (except medical), as simple as that.


Janie Watkins said...

It's also worth pointing out that the Amateur Governing Bodies also have a full anti-doping structure in place using the WADA rules.

Adopted by the IBSF, EBSA etc it's been passed to all governing bodies to complete and comply.

So theoretically any playing member of a country anywhere in the world is now under the anti-doping umbrella.

Matt@PSB said...

Yeah good news I reckon, if snooker wants to be taken seriously as a sport then it has to conform to the standards set by other top sports.

Dave H said...

"Can anyone tell me when, if ever the players are going to be told about this?"

Anon - I asked World Snooker whether the players had been informed they could be tested out of competition but received no reply

Monique said...

Personally I think this is going over the top and tripping on private life. Especially as, as you point it Dave, there is no real "performance enhancing" substances for snooker.
To be perfectly clear what annoys me is the hypocrisy of it all. Tobacco and alcohol are drugs. Hard ones. But they are socially accepted in western society and that's all the difference. Will players be required to be smokefree and teetotal? I doubt it. I don't think sports authorities should do police work. In some sports substances give unfair advantages and that is doping and yes should be fought. Other than that ... live and let live...

Anonymous said...

i agree with bongos statement and disagree with Moniques.

(DH - perhaps ask a few players when youre next in contact with them to see if theyve been notified. if some have, surely all will??)


Anonymous said...

id also say that although maybe not strictly "performance enhancing" but some drugs do have the affect on some people where it settles their nerves or gives them a short burst of self confidence/belief and so this in my mind is giving them a better chance than if they were completely sober. (id remove cigarettes and alcohol as they are legal to buy/consume), but anyone caught taking something that is banned (and they obviously know its banned) has no comeback. imho of course.


Anonymous said...

Off season drug tests in snooker seem rather ridiculous to me. During a tournament, fine, even if they are not performance enhancing per se. I don't think it enhances snooker's status as a sport if you forcefully try to apply rules made for more physical sports.

Anonymous said...

The idea also that Cold and flu medicine is banned is completely over the top too. Billy snaddon had points taken away a few years back if i remember through taking medication for flu. surely if you have an ailment you need a particular drug that should be it. I was at a venue a few years back, with a player who was really bad with the flu and there was simply no give and take regarding treatment. he was restricted to paracetemol and plenty fluids.
This is not in my view acceptable and the fact that as Dave has confirmed to me that 99.9% of the players know nothing about it yet is a damn disgrace in my opinion.

Claus Christensen said...

If it's a matter of respect and credibility I don't think doping is even an issue, especially with regard to O'Sullivan and his title being taken away from him.

That caused me to LOSE respect for the governing bodies of snooker and to be all up in arms about, with regard to snooker, totally irrelevant drugs is a waste of time.

MissIntegrity said...

This raises more questions than it answers -
firstly - were the out of competition tests for the full screen i.e. including anabolic steroids, stimulants, narcotics and cannabis? If only for steroids and hormones (like most other OOC tests) then is this about demonstrating snooker is drug free?
Secondly - did WPBSA pay for these tests or did UK Sport offer to test using public money? Was it part of a testing plan or simply a political move regarding the involvement of professional sports in national anti-doping programmes.

Sir Rodney Walker, previously Chair of UK Sport, should be able to help you with your enquiries!