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Report: English Soccer Blighted by Drug-Taking

Sun May 18, 9:28 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Drugs are competing with alcohol as a favored leisure activity among English soccer players and a significant percentage of players use them to enhance their performances, according to a BBC survey.

The survey, the subject of a BBC television program to be broadcast on Monday, found that 33 percent of premier league players knew of colleagues who took recreational drugs.

The survey conducted by Ivan Waddington, a specialist at Leicester University, also concluded that 5.6 percent of those interviewed said they knew of other players who used drugs to improve their performances.

Yet the survey also found that players were only likely to be tested for drugs by the Football Association (FA) about once every three years.

Four percent of players said they had been given injections at their clubs without knowing what substances they were taking.

The program 'Real Story,' presented by former Liverpool and England defender John Scales, was made with the backing of the players' union, the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA).

A Sunday Times report on the survey said forms with 26 multiple-choice questions were sent to all 2,863 PFA members and 637 responded.

"If the figures are representative of football as a whole, it translates to 160 players using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) -- enough players to fill almost 15 starting line-ups," the BBC Web Site reported.

"To date, no Premiership footballer has ever tested positive for PEDs, and there have only been 46 positive tests out of 6,500 for other substances," it added.

Several high-profile players with European clubs have tested positive for banned substances, notably the anabolic steroid nandrolone, including Dutch internationals Edgar Davids, Frank de Boer and Jaap Stam, and Portugal's Fernando Couto.

Former Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Bosnich is appealing against a one-year worldwide ban after a positive test for cocaine. The Australian was sacked by the English premier league club.

Waddington told the BBC that the findings cast a shadow over soccer, which was thought to be relatively drug-free.

"It certainly is a significant minority and it suggests that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is rather more widespread than the FA test results would indicate," he said.

The Sunday Times quoted Alan Hodson, head of the FA's anti-doping control program, as saying that in nine seasons 6,500 drug tests have been carried out.

"We do 1,200 tests a year," he said. "We test seven days a week and that's more than twice the amount in Germany and France and the same as Spain. Only Italy has more with 5,000 tests a year."