A detailed view of a forensic scientist working with samples

Ukad took 1,494 samples from the 2,047 players to appear in the EFL in 2016-17

At least a quarter of players who appeared in the English Football League last season were not drugs tested by UK Anti-Doping (Ukad), despite a rise in testing across England’s top divisions.

Professor Ivan Waddington, an expert in doping in sport, described the level of testing in the EFL as “unacceptable”.

The Football Association said it runs “one of the most comprehensive national anti-doping programmes in world sport”.

Tests were up 47% in the Premier League and 24% in the EFL compared to 2015-16.

In the top flight, 1,171 samples were taken from 524 players who made at least one appearance – an average of 2.23 samples per player.

The FA, which records drugs tests differently to Ukad – counting urine and blood samples separately, says the number of tests is set to rise further from “about 3,250 to in excess of 5,000 in 2017-18”.

  • Read more: ‘I was only drugs tested once in the Premier League’

Drugs testing in English football compares favourably with the rest of the continent, with Italy the only European country to record more test samples in 2016, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).

Ukad, which carries out testing on behalf of the FA, took more samples from football than any other sport during the 2016-17 period – though this does not take into account the number of athletes competing in each sport.

“In the past 12 months there has been a substantial increase in the number of tests,” said Waddington, who conducted initial research into the level of drugs testing in football on behalf of the BBC in 2003.

“In the Premier League, the level of testing is acceptable now. But players in the Championship, League One and League Two would probably reasonably not expect to be tested, and that’s not good enough.

“The research evidence from other sports – and testing should be research-driven – suggests the greatest level of drug use in sport is not at the very highest level but just below it.”

The FA said its anti-doping programme is “research and intelligence-led” and is “weighted towards the highest level of the game and targeted at those players playing the most minutes”.

The EFL said it would “absolutely welcome further and enhanced checks made on players”, while the Premier League declined to comment further than the FA’s statement.

How do we know so many EFL players weren’t tested?

English Football League advertising board

The number of untested EFL players is down from 2015-16, when BBC Sport found at least 785 were not tested by Ukad

Ukad collected 1,494 samples from the 2,047 players to appear in the English Football League during 2016-17, leaving a minimum of 553 players untested.

As Ukad does not disclose how many players were tested multiple times, one player being tested twice would account for two samples.

For every player tested twice, the number of untested players would increase beyond the minimum figure of 553.

What does the EFL say?

“Testing for banned substances within the professional game is conducted by Ukad on behalf of the FA in line with their anti-doping regulations. The current approach to testing is determined by the FA.

“While testing in the EFL has increased proportionately as a result of additional funding being made available, we would absolutely welcome further and enhanced checks made on players within our competitions and have previously campaigned for an increase in excess of the current levels.

“It is frustrating to see EFL players being highlighted in this manner in what is an important and sensitive matter.

“It is important that those who choose to comment on these issues, who may be on the periphery of the game or sit outside it, understand exactly how testing is managed and who is responsible for administering it. It is not the EFL, the clubs or the players.

“We will continue to work with the FA and Ukad to ensure that testing within EFL competitions protects players’ integrity.”

‘The FA commits more funding than any other sport’

Bournemouth crest at Dean Court

Bournemouth, Manchester City and Fleetwood Town were fined for breaching whereabouts rules during 2016-17

Two players were punished for anti-doping violations in English football during the 2016-17 season – Aston Villa Under-18s player Jake Humphries