Doping is a topic that I have accused the main stream rugby press of avoiding in the past so it’s good to see it getting some more recently.
The first time I spotted it was about a month ago in the Gloucester Citizen where an eighteen year old rugby league player was caught. They did go on to mention that doping was seen as an issue in ammeter and under 23s players of both league and union.
A couple of weeks ago the Guardian reported that the RFU had commissioned an academic study into teenage doping and supplement use. The article also went on to mention that the RFU were working with UK Anti-Doping on a new education campaign aimed at younger players. The RFU should be congratulated on these steps as I have not heard of many other sporting bodies taking this as seriously. We do need to temper our applause with acknowledging that doping has been known about for years and education programs should already be in place.
Then in this past week Rugby World reposted an article they ran in April that starts by talking about Sam Chalmers. Son of Craig who was caught by a random drugs test at the age of 19 of having taken steroids. They talk about his rehabilitation and education of other players. They then go on to cover rugby in the UK, France, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. They also quote Andy Parkinson, CEO of UK Anti-Doping saying that it’s not a fight that is ever won and that we need to “drive through the right moral compass.” So what comes out overall to me is that doping will always be there, we need to keep up the testing and education and that there is a reluctance to whistle blow. That last one requires a really tricky culture change.
Also this past week the Telegraph reported some comments from Andy Parkinson confirming a lot of what is covered above. Basically that the risk has increased in the younger players trying to break into professional sport and this has been driven by availably through the internet. But not only availability of the substances but also instruction on how to take them and avoid detection.
One thing that is mentioned in few of these articles is the release of the RFU’s anti-doping annual report. Whilst I saw articles saying it was coming or has been released, I have not seen any actually talking about it’s contents. The report is 16 pages long and surprisingly readable. I didn’t realise that there are 2 types of testing, first the anti-doping testing and then the illicit drugs testing. The anti-doping one is for the performance enhancing drugs and covered by the WADA code. The second is extra testing that the RFU does and is about player health and welfare as well as the reputation of rugby. The report does leave some questions unanswered:
- Why did 2013-2014 have the fewest anti-dpoing tests of the 5 years this report covers?
- The report states that 84% of premiership players were tested at least once in the illicit drugs testing. What was that number for anti-doping testing?
On the education side they do cover that all premiership and championship clubs plus various representative sides will have had presentations. I was surprised that there was no mention of online training and a test to pass. This is something that has been brought in for the concussion awareness and I would expect to have seen it here. Whilst we are talking about mandatory online training, I would have thought that there would also be mandatory modules covering gambling along with the dangers of match fixing and diversity awareness. These are not seen as issues in the game and let’s keep it that way through education. Annual mandatory online training of regulatory awareness has been in Investment Banking for over a decade, so the technology isn’t new but I do agree it’s effectiveness could be questioned.
Here is something I read on twitter from Martyn Ziegler @martynziegler dec 1
“Of 21 UK doping sanctions in 2014, nine for rugby union + 4 rugby league players. Almost all young players hoping to make it as pros.”
Rugby union is sport with the most sanctions in the UK and this gets mentioned in a few articles I have read. Personally I don’t think that means that rugby union necessarily has the biggest problem, it just means the sport is actually looking and trying to deal with the problem which is good.
If you have not heard of him, Paul Kimmage was one of the first reporters to write about doping in cycling. One of the points brought up in the linked articles above, is the size of rugby players in France but forwards in particular. This happens to also be something that is brought up prior to European games. This has been explained or shown as an example of the higher spending on players by clubs in France and a different style game in the Top14. It will be interesting to read Paul Kimmage’s articles over the coming months.
In conclusion, it’s good to see that the subject is getting more discussion in the press. It’s also good to see the work that the RFU is doing. But clearly anti-doping is something that needs to be kept focus on, by the authorities, clubs, players associations, players and the press.