IT IS among the most unlikely of sports to have a brush with drug-related controversy.
Over the centuries, curling has developed a reputation for being a genteel game played by middle-aged couples. But, in a move that has raised eyebrows at bonspiels, Scotland's curlers are facing random dope tests.
The Royal Caledonian Curling Club (RCCC) has amended its rules to stress that competitors will now be subject to random Olympics-style tests for prohibited substances. Their revised rule book also warns that bad behaviour and cheating will not be tolerated.
Although not drug-related, Scotland's female curling team were involved in a row earlier this year, with players refusing to take to the ice after a series of disastrous defeats.
The new zero-tolerance policy states: "The Royal Club has adopted anti-doping rules to impose clear prohibitions and controls in order to preserve the integrity of and values of fair play in the sport of curling and to protect the rights and health of participants.
"The rules cover the supply and taking of prohibited substances by players, coaches, umpires, officials or other agents involved in the sport.
"The Royal Club shall permit random testing for the detection of the use of prohibited substances."
National coaching officer Lynne Robertson said the measures had been adopted to comply with international guidelines – and stressed she was unaware of nefarious tactics taking root in the game's home country. "Curling isn't a sport that you would usually associate with drug abuse and we want to make sure it stays that way," she said. "We are a very clean sport and are low risk, but we don't want this to be tarnished in future because of a lack of action or a shortage of information.
"I'm sure a lot of people will think: 'Why would anyone try to use drugs to cheat at curling?' But we can't afford to be complacent. We are taking this very seriously."
Robertson said that steroids would allow players to build up their bodies to deliver the stones with more force. It could also allow them to sweep the rink harder and for longer.
She added: "Similarly, at a final at the end of a very hard week, the use of stimulants could make you less tired and more alert and focused."
The sport's governing body in Scotland – regarded as world curling's "mother club" – said national and international players at all levels are liable to be tested. Robertson said: "Random testing can take place at any of the competitions or training events."
But so far the only drugs highlighted by testers are those often taken by the older generations. Robertson said: "We have been aware of a couple of positive tests, but they were exempted as it turned out they were diabetic and asthmatic players using insulin and inhalers, quite legitimately for health reasons. Quite a few of our players do hold exemption forms on health grounds."
It comes as little surprise in a sport where 75% of Scotland's 15,000 registered curlers are over 35 and close to one-third are over 55.
One veteran curler said dope testing was an overreaction. "I really don't see how the use of any kind of drug would give a significant advantage to a player or a team. In more than 30 years playing the game I have never seen or heard any evidence that people are using drugs. It is really not that kind of sport."
Robertson has been invited to outline Scotland's anti-drug strategy at a gathering of the World Curling Federation in Germany, which will take place later this year.
The RCCC guidelines follow those devised by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which outlaws anabolic steroids, hormones, diuretics, stimulants, narcotics and beta-blockers. Anyone caught could face a lengthy or even permanent ban from competition.
The club's rules also include new guidance of the paramount importance of time-honoured "etiquette". They state: "Curling has always relied on the common sense, the honesty and the good manners of the players and a sporting approach to the game." Players must abide by this spirit both "on and off the ice". Robertson said this included not overindulging with drink. "Our international players representing Scotland are contracted not to drink alcohol before games.
It is not on the banned substance list, but would be considered to be a violation of our code of conduct."
Canada's curling world was rocked three years ago when Joe Frans, a top player, was suspended after using cocaine.
In March, Scotland's women curlers finished the World Championships in Canada with just three players after an embarrassing bust-up. Captain Gail Munro was axed for the final two games after a disastrous start to the tournament, which saw Scotland lose eight matches. Lyndsay Wilson reacted with fury at the snub to her friend and refused to play on.
Coach Derek Brown then tried to reinstate Munro in a bid to save face but, amid farcical scenes, both Munro and Wilson ended up refusing to play.
Scottish sport is no stranger to drug-related controversy. Footballer Willie Johnston was sent home from the 1978 World Cup after testing positive for a banned stimulant, while skier Alain Baxter was stripped of his Olympic bronze in 2002 after failing a drug test. Baxter blamed it on a nasal inhaler.
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