I wrote this article before a certain story broke, therefore, I will make it clear I am in no way suggesting that I either knew or suspected any player past or present doped. But as proven recently there is barely a month that goes by without talk from different sports of failed doping tests, suspicious results or the ever confusing TUEs. So does rugby have a problem and are the IRB and the Unions doing enough to check, control and educate?
A recent search of the Scottish Rugby Union website using the term “doping control” resulted then only in three articles. Two concerned Scott MacLeod’s failed test, suspension and subsequent acquittal from 2008; the other is a generic statement from 2007. A similar search on the IRB website leads to www.irbkeeprugbyclean.com where the policy and guidelines are available in a variety of languages and formats. But you have to hunt for the anti-doping information unlike the UCI and IAAF websites that have links on their home pages. The UCI and IAAF are the respective heads of cycling and athletics which both have doping problems – but is that just because they test more?
Looking at some figures available on the websites mentioned shows that in the last 18 months the IRB have carried out 1,250 doping tests on the World 7s circuit players. In 2011 the UCI carried close to 14,000 and the IAAF just over 6,000 and each year since they have increased the number of tests carried out. Athletics have had some high profile positive tests and now there are allegations that the IRB are investigating a positive from a U20 player.
At least rugby is heading in the right direction, unlike some. Last month the BundesLiga announced its anti-doping policy for the coming season: two tests per TEAM for the season. Anyone who thinks “so what?” should do a quick search for Operation Puerto or Dr Fuentes.
The system of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) are in place to allow taking of certain substances for medical reasons that would otherwise result in a ban. Now even these TUEs are coming under scrutiny as athletes are being accused of falsifying the need for certain treatments in order to enhance their performance.
In addition to the medical potholes, players need to be fully aware that some supplements available to help train and recover may contain a banned substance. Are the IRB and Unions doing enough to educate down to grass roots level on the perils of doping both to potential careers and possible future health problems?
There have been a number of bans either overturned or reduced due to the accused taking an over-the-counter medicine or supplement (the brand in the UK may be OK but overseas it may contain banned substances) or it was bought by a family member, with ignorance then the defence. Staunch anti-dopers believe that athletes must be fully aware of everything they eat, drink and take.
If players are properly educated on banned substances it then becomes a simple choice: Cheat or not.