Graham Arthur, director of legal at UK Anti-Doping, leads a team looking to level the playing field for Britain’s sportsmen and women. Joanne Harris reports
On the shelf in Graham Arthur’s modest office overlooking Trafalgar Square is a plastic bottle of sports supplement. It is an unusual feature for a lawyer’s room, but it is not there because Arthur is taking the supplement – after all, the pills contain a banned substance. As the director of legal for the organisation dedicated to fighting doping in sport, it is a crucial piece of evidence.
Arthur joined UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) in December 2009, the year the publicly funded body was set up. UKAD is the successor to Drug Free Sport, previously a function of high-performance agency UK Sport.
UKAD is tasked with making sure the UK complies with international agreements in this area – the country is a signatory to the 2006 Unesco Convention Against Doping in Sport. Each year the doping control officers who work with UKAD test almost 7,000 athletes, both amateur and professional, across a range of sports.
Arthur sees the independent position of UKAD as key to its efficiency.
“If you’re running UK Athletics,” he says, by way of example, “you want to make sure that all your athletes are performing at the highest standard possible. You don’t want to be punishing them; you want someone else to be doing that. The split identity is difficult for a sport to maintain.”
According to Arthur, UKAD has a number of roles. On top of the testing regime, where the legal team is crucial, it has an intelligence team that tracks athletes who could be cheating and looks at how illegal drugs and stimulants come into the country.
UKAD tests athletes in training and competition in the UK, and is also working closely with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games to develop London 2012’s anti-doping strategy.
There is also an education team that seeks to prevent doping by making sure athletes – particularly young ones – are aware of the dangers.
“The point of the organisation is behaviour change,” adds Arthur. “The intention is to make it clear that there’s a significant risk attached to doping.”
Arthur heads a team including two other lawyers, one paralegal and another three staff who handle the data input side of the testing regime. When a doping control officer visits an athlete to take a drug test, multiple forms are filled out. The athlete keeps one, one goes with the sample to the laboratory and one goes to UKAD, where details are checked and added to the organisation’s systems. The attention paid to this area means that when a sample is found to be positive it is easy to track back and make sure that all the paperwork is in order.
“We’re as sure as we can be that the sample the lab has tested is the sample taken from the athlete,” explains Arthur.
Once this stage is checked off UKAD speaks to the governing body for the sport concerned and prepares a charge letter that is sent to the athlete. Arthur says UKAD takes into account the athlete’s circumstances when delivering this letter, so it deals with young or vulnerable individuals in a sensitive manner.
Athletes then have two choices. They can admit guilt, in which case Arthur and his team have the power to impose a suitable sanction – often a ban. They are able to raise any issues with the team if they disagree with the proposed sanction.
The other option is to ask for a hearing before the National Anti-Doping Panel, which is an independent body with members selected by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. There is no cost risk to the athlete if they have to attend a hearing, apart from any legal fees if they choose to instruct a lawyer.
Since its inception UKAD has agreed sanctions or held hearings in around 30 cases. Mostly Arthur and his team do the case preparation and presentation themselves, but he will outsource work if a hearing is particularly long or complicated. Bird & Bird is the go-to firm for litigation and anti-doping advice, while Covington & Burling – Arthur’s former employer – provides data protection advice.
Arthur says data protection is an increasing issue, as so-called ’blood passports’ become more common. Blood passports are developed by regular tests that build up a picture of athletes’ normal blood profiles. But to be useful, results need to be shared among anti-doping and sports’ governing bodies, which is where the data protection issue kicks in.
“We don’t want to do something unlawful that violates peoples’ privacy,” Arthur comments, explaining that Covington makes sure UKAD complies with the rules.
The spectrum of offences for which athletes can be sanctioned is wide, ranging from deliberately taking steroids or missing a scheduled test to mistakenly taking a banned substance in a supplement. Arthur says the aim is to be fair, but also for UKAD to take a leading role in stamping out doping in sport worldwide so that Britain’s athletes know they are competing on a level playing field.
Name: Graham Arthur
Company: UK Anti-Doping
Position: Director of legal
Reporting to: Chief executive Andy Parkinson
Legal spend (2010-11):£1.4m (includes sample analysis as well as legal work)
Global legal capability:Seven (three lawyers, one paralegal, three other staff)
Main law firms: Bird & Bird, Covington & Burling