Plans for the introduction of doping control in the NIFL Premiership and NIFL Women’s Premiership - via a new partnership jointly funded by the Irish FA and NI Football League - have been outlined at an information event in Belfast.
Representatives from all clubs in both top flights attended the event staged at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
Doping tests are set to be introduced to both leagues in 2024.
Graham Fitzgerald, Chief Operating Officer at the Irish Football Association, said: “The association welcomes the introduction of doping control along with our partners at the Northern Ireland Football League.
“A regular testing regime is the natural extension of our doping education programme, and we believe that it will elevate the credibility and professionalism of our top flight leagues.
“We look forward to harnessing the experience and expertise of UKAD (UK Anti-Doping) to help our clubs and players take this important step towards ensuring that football in Northern Ireland maintains its reputation for sporting integrity.”
Steven Mills, the NI Football League’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “We are pleased to see this programme come to fruition. It helps take the professional game to a next level whilst maintaining the values of sport and fair play.”
Chris Wright, the Irish Football Association’s Anti-Doping and Integrity Education Officer, has been delivering an education programme on doping to all NIFL Premiership, Championship and Women’s Premiership clubs for more than 12 months.
He said the increasing standard and professionalism of the game in Northern Ireland increases the risk of player performance enhancement.
Following Wednesday’s event, Glentoran manager Warren Feeney said: “After a very positive education session in pre-season, we are delighted to see the next steps of doping control testing being introduced.
“As an ex-professional I am fully aware of the importance of testing as our game increases professionalism and with the Irish FA and NIFL partnering with UKAD I look forward to co-operating fully with the doping control testing programme.”
Newry City manager Barry Gray said: “I was delighted to get the opportunity to listen to the Irish FA staff outline the new drug testing protocols soon to come into play.
“It was a very informative evening and a great opportunity to ask questions and get clarification on many points. The arrangement seems to be very transparent and I look forward to seeing it rolled out next season.
“I’ve no doubt it will be a great success and aid the association and NIFL in bringing Northern Ireland football to a new level of professionalism."
Carrick Rangers manager Stuart King said the event had provided a valuable insight into the drug testing programme going forward.
“It helped clubs to understand the process, which will lead to a more professional league which can only enhance the status of the league,” he added.
Glentoran Women head coach Kim Turner said doping control requirements for clubs had been clearly laid out at the event. “We look forward to the introduction of testing across the league,” she added.
The panel at the event included Kieran Orme, Football Testing Officer from UKAD.
Chris Wright pointed out that both UEFA and UKAD insist a player’s first interaction with doping control should be education rather than testing. All clubs involved will have received this education in advance of any testing taking place.
Image: (from left) Irish FA Chief Operating Officer Graham Fitzgerald, Irish FA Anti-Doping and Integrity Education Officer Chris Wright and Steven Mills, the NI Football League’s Chief Operating Officer, at the information event.