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LONDON (Reuters) - The British government has ordered an inquiry into the way the country's anti-doping agency handled allegations that a British doctor prescribed banned performance-enhancing drugs to leading sports people.
The Sunday Times reported that Dr Mark Bonar prescribed banned drugs to 150 sports figures including several Premier League footballers.
The paper said Dr Bonar claimed his "clients" included an England cricketer, British Tour de France cyclists, a British boxing champion, tennis players and martial arts competitors as well as footballers.
In the past six years he had treated more than 150 sportsmen from the UK and abroad with banned substances such as erythropoietin (EPO), steroids and human growth hormone, and the performance improvements were "phenomenal", the report added.
The Sunday Times said that during a series of meetings with undercover reporters, Bonar had spoken about people he had treated. The newspaper also sent a sportsman to Bonar's clinic, who recorded his appointments with a hidden camera.
Neither the newspaper nor Reuters was able to substantiate the claims made by the doctor.
Premier League soccer clubs Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester City as well as second tier club Birmingham City issued statements on Sunday denying the allegations made by the newspaper.
UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), Britain's anti-doping agency, said it was "deeply concerned and shocked" by the Sunday Times report.
UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead said the body had been aware of allegations against Bonar after a sportsperson approached them two years ago but had not been able to act upon them because he was not affiliated to any particular sport.
"Under current legislation, UKAD has the power only to investigate athletes and entourage (including medics) who are themselves governed by a sport," she said.
UKAD had considered informing the General Medical Council, which overseas medical practitioners in Britain, but decided the evidence they had was insufficient for such a referral, Sapstead added.
Culture, Media and Sport Secretary John Whittingdale said in a statement that the government had ordered an inquiry into UKAD's handling of the allegations against Dr Bonar and were looking at whether existing legislation goes far enough.
"I have asked for there to be an urgent independent investigation into what action was taken when these allegations were first received and what more needs to be done to ensure that British sport remains clean," Whittingdale said.
UKAD Chairman David Kenworthy said an independent review would be conducted into the issues raised by the report.
"They will be asked to look at the way the information supplied by the sportsperson was handled and whether proper procedures were followed," he said.
"They will also be asked to make any recommendations to improve the way in which intelligence is dealt with in the future so that UKAD can be as effective as possible in keeping sport clean."
Arsenal said they were "extremely disappointed" by the publication of the claims which it said were "without foundation", while Leicester City denied the allegations which they described as "unsubstantiated".
Chelsea said they had "never used the services of Dr Bonar and have no knowledge or record of any of our players having been treated by him or using his services".
The news is likely to cast a further shadow on the sporting world ahead of the Rio Olympics.
Russia was suspended from international track and field last year following a report exposing widespread cheating and corruption among its athletes.
The country faces a ban from the Olympics unless Russia can prove to the World Anti-Doping Agency and the IAAF governing body that it has met a series of conditions regarding its anti-doping operations.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, Nick Mulvenney and Toby Davis; editing by Tony Jimenez and Jason Neely