Hughes defends FA

Stoke manager Mark Hughes has defended the Football Association’s policy of not naming players who fail tests for recreational drugs.

The FA stance has been under scrutiny since it was reported Saido Berahino, who signed for Stoke for £12million in January, served an eight-week ban earlier this season at his former club West Brom after a positive test.

But West Brom kept this secret, telling fans and journalists the England Under-21 striker was short of match fitness, with the FA not revealing the ban either.

Speaking to reporters on Friday ahead of Stoke’s game against Crystal Palace, Hughes pointed out it was an FA rule Berahino broke and not a World Anti-Doping Agency issue, as it was an out-of-competition test for a recreational substance.

“It was a low-level misdemeanour – it was eight weeks, not like a two-year ban,” Hughes said.

“If it had been significant and a constant problem then he would have got a longer ban. I think confidentiality, given the level of the misdemeanour, was important. Unfortunately, (the public) was made aware by other people.”

Berahino’s ban was revealed by the Daily Mail last week, with Stoke blaming West Brom for leaking the news.The two teams met last weekend and the Baggies won 1-0.

On the wider topic of why the FA keeps recreational-drug bans private, Hughes said: “I f somebody has a problem, then they need time to be able to deal with that.

“It is not the case with Saido, but other players in other circumstances might need that confidentiality to get on with their lives.”

The FA believes players who make one-off mistakes with recreational drugs should not be tarnished for the rest of their careers but denies ever misleading anybody as it never comments on cases.

It also rejects the suggestion it is soft on drugs, as it will conduct almost 5,000 tests next season – double the number it carried out in the 2015-16 campaign – at a cost of almost £2million.

The FA pays UK Anti-Doping to carry out a significant number of tests beyond what UKAD would do as part of its “public interest testing”.

Neither the FA nor UKAD would confirm the cost of these additional tests but Press Association Sport understands UKAD’s average price for a urine test is £400, with blood and biological passport tests costing closer to £500.

Almost half of these costs are associated with the collection and transport of the samples, so the unit cost can be reduced in team sports if multiple samples are collected at a time. But the FA also pays UKAD for a comprehensive drug-awareness education programme.

According to statistics published on the FA website, UKAD conducted 2,442 blood and urine tests during the 2015-16 season and is planning to do more than 3,000 this term. Every sample collected by UKAD on behalf of the FA is also screened for recreational drugs.

Between 2012 and 2016 there were seven anti-doping offences and 13 positive tests for recreational drugs – fewer than one positive per 500 tests.

Two of those recreational-drug positives are understood to have been provided by Jose Baxter, the midfielder who is due to rejoin Everton this summer when his one-year ban is completed.

And positive tests in 2015 by West Brom midfielder Jake Livermore and Ross County goalkeeper Aaron McCarey were revealed by their former clubs Hull and Wolves respectively.

The FA’s willingness to pay for extra tests must be contrasted with the situation in Spain, where the continuing problems its national anti-doping agency has had over the last year has resulted in no valid tests being conducted in the Spanish leagues this season.

WADA declared the Spanish agency AEPSAD and the main anti-doping lab in Madrid “non-compliant” last March and the country’s political turmoil has delayed efforts to get those bans lifted.

In a written statement, AEPSAD said it had asked FIFA and UEFA to provide a basic level of testing in Spain this season but both organisations said they lacked the jurisdiction to do so, meaning Europe’s most successful league in recent years has not been tested for performance-enhancing drugs.

A WADA statement described this news as “alarming”.

“It will do little to instil confidence in clean sport at a time when it is needed most,” it added.

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