Time for footballers to reveal their whereabouts
Whereabouts (noun): The place or general location where a person or thing is.
It's an old-fashioned word and it has connotations of time happily wasted looking for something or someone.
So, for example, Wayne Rooney's most likely whereabouts for 11 months of the year will be somewhere in the triangle between Old Trafford, Manchester United's training ground and his mansion in the Cheshire village of Prestbury.
That's a big triangle. Time an anti-doping expert spends looking for Rooney during those four weeks might be happily wasted for somebody but it won't be the footballer.
Like it or not, the drug-testers ("vampires" as they're known to cyclists) are coming for Britain's footballers and it would be in everybody's best interests if we can work out a way to make this as painless as possible.
That rule book is about to updated with a more muscular version of the World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada) Code. From 1 January, the offence Rio Ferdinand was given an eight-month ban for in 2003 will trigger an enforced break of two years.
The breathless claims in Tuesday's Sun - "England footie drug blitz" - might have turned up the super soaraway splash-o-meter to 11 but they hinted at some timely truths (or certainly some timely perceptions).
More on those later but first let's deal with the more prosaic facts (aren't they always) under the headlines.
Britain's anti-doping authorities are in talks with the Football Association (and in December, the players' union, too) about a new system for out-of-competition drugs tests for the country's elite players.
Those talks have been difficult and, judging from the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) response to The Sun story, will remain so for the near future at least (that said, a senior PFA source gave me a more conciliatory line, saying the union was looking forward to "finally discussing this matter properly").
The cause of these difficulties is a series of disagreements over where and when these tests will take place, the number of players that will be tested and what drugs the testers will be looking for.
But the differences between the two sides can be boiled down to something more fundamental: should professional team sports be treated in the same way as Olympic sports. What this means in practice can best be illustrated by returning to that cosy word "whereabouts".
Team GB's Beijing heroes know instinctively what this means - the need to provide testers with a time and place that they can be found, one hour a day, five days a week, 52 weeks of the year.
They might not like having to provide that kind of information to strangers, or the pressure of having to work out schedules three months in advance, but they know drug-free sport is an illusion without no-notice testing. And you can't have that without a workable "whereabouts" system.
Professional footballers, on the other hand, have no idea what "whereabouts" means...not yet, anyway.
For them, drug-testing is having their name drawn out of a hat to provide a blood or urine sample after a game, or being picked out at training when the testers visit a couple of times a year. The former is "in competition" - the equivalent of a medallist being detained after his or her race - and the latter is "out of competition".
What is missing is what happens between the end of one season and the start of the next. Those six-to-four weeks are usually spent on a sun lounger or golf course, and testers, should they want to find the player, would have no idea which sun lounger or golf course.
That's the "where and when" part of the stand-off: the "who" part would again cause little controversy for our Olympic stars. If you are one of the top-ranked exponents at your sport you would expect to be put in the "pool" of tested athletes.
There isn't enough time or money to test everybody so targeting the top is the best way to ensure a sport's health. And, as athletics and cycling have learned, there is nothing like a few high-profile positives "pour encourager les autres".
But who are the top-ranked footballers in the Premier League? Are they the England national squad plus a few big-name foreign stars? Are they each team's top two earners? Or how about basing the pool on the BBC's Player Rater stats?
This is something UK Sport, the agency that runs our anti-doping programme, must sort out with the FA and the PFA very soon. A pool based on the national team would seem to be the most sensible way forward and is certainly what cricket and rugby union have in mind.
That last point is worth emphasising. It is not only football that is being asked to get in step with Olympic sports, the other pro team sports are in UK Sport's sights too. The difference with football, however, is it is already an Olympic sport and should really have been doing this for some time.
While football's authorities can point to the fact it is the most tested sport in the country by a factor of four, complying with "whereabouts" is only what the likes of Rebecca Adlington and Chris Hoy do as a matter of course.
But UK Sport would be well advised to reassure the FA and PFA that educational resources will be made available to players to get them up to speed with the system. The last thing anybody wants is a spate of players missing tests because they have failed to get to grips with the software or misunderstood what is required of them.
But the issue football's bosses will want most clarity on is the "what drugs" question.
Does football have a problem with performance-enhancing drugs? Probably not (and yes, I know the allegations made against certain Italian and Spanish teams over the last 20 years), although until the sport embraces truly robust anti-doping methods, I guess we'll never know.
Between August and October of this year, four players tested positive for cannabis or cocaine. One of them was given a warning, the other three served suspensions of three to five months. These are British football's only positives in over 700 tests since April.
But social drugs are not really what the testers are looking for during the off-season (they currently carry no UK Sport sanction when taken out of competition).
In fact, a UK Sport source told me he would prefer it if social drugs were removed from the Wada's banned list as they are a distraction from what their work should really be about: weeding out cheats.
The football authorities, however, do care about recreational drugs and remain committed to their "social drugs programme", an admirably proportionate regime that allows for rehabilitation.
The PFA is concerned some players will make mistakes with social drugs and then compound that error by skipping drugs tests. Three of those in 18 months and you're looking at a straight two-year red card.
So why has this all come up now? Let's return to those perceptions.
There is a belief in non-football sporting circles that the world's most popular sport has only been paying lip service to those highfalutin anti-doping codes it so readily signs up to.
There is also a belief that football should set a better example when it comes to the problem of drugs in sport.
And there is another perception that football has been allowed to drag its feet on this issue because it's football - the richest, most popular, most powerful sport.
Now whether any of this is true would be the subject of considerable debate but I would have some sympathy with football's argument that it doesn't look like a sport with a doping problem.
Where I would have less sympathy is with the argument footballers are somehow different to other (and let's not forget that) Olympic athletes. If Britain's top riders, rowers and runners can put up with "whereabouts" for the greater good of their sports so can Rio and Rooney.
Whether the testers from UK Sport will get past security at the Burj Al Arab hotel is another matter but our footballers should at least be held to same the standards as our Olympians.