Drugs in rugby

Drugs in rugby – Part Un

We’re all engrossed in the forthcoming World Cup, but this week a couple of other stories have come to light about an all more depressing subject.

The first was THIS concerning South African Mahlatse Ralepelle, nicknamed “Chiliboy”, or “cheat” in future. The positive test actually happened in March 2014, but Chiliboy hasn’t played since then and had chosen to fight it. The result: a 2 year-ban backdated to the positive test… on the basis that he didn’t press the case further.

The second hit the press today and involved one of the biggest clubs in Europe, Toulon and reported in the Guardian.

The initial argument talks of the supply and use of many drugs at Toulon, but the club president Mourad Boudjellal was quick to offer a defence. And on the face of it, it sounds reasonable.

He hasn’t denied the report in full. The report centres on a pharmaceutical company making illegal supplies and Boudjellal admits the inquiry is into a former employee of the club involved in a “health service scam”.

It’s worth noting that no Toulon player has failed a drugs test, that I’m aware of, in the last few years and top players continue to want to join their ranks. If Toulon do end up being fully involved, what next?

For me, there’s a big “what if” – What if the “illegal supply” was of painkillers? What if no performance enhancing drugs were supplied or used?

In my mind, there is a big difference between the two.

If you take a performance enhancing drug, you want to better yourself to be able to compete – you cheat.

If you take a painkiller, you’re the same as any other sportsman and woman on this planet. Does it matter how you got it? Of course – after all, illegal supply is illegal supply.

Using the weekend as an example – when Messrs Halfpenny and Webb were stretchered off, they would’ve received a painkiller. Legally. That very same drug in my possession, without a prescription, would most likely be illegal.

LH

The sort of painkillers these players would’ve received might have caused drowsiness, sickness – hardly something you’d take before or during a game to get you through it!

This does not look good on a Toulon team trying to attract the best players but, should my initial thoughts be true, this does not affect my opinion of their outstanding winning record over the past few years.

Of course, right now, this is all speculation…

UPDATE: UKDA have announced they will follow up on these allegations to keep the World Cup clean. Interesting viewing over the coming weeks.

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Drugs in rugby – Part Two

On a similar subject: For those of you that have been following on Twitter, I’ve been plugging this blog endlessly and trying to RT stories about the forthcoming World Cup. Last week, a non-rugby friend asked when it was all over, clearly fed up of my timeline being a mass rugby fest! When I told him it didn’t start for almost 2 more weeks, another friend chimed in with this stat:

“@ADGStreet: Two more weeks for even more rugby players to be banned for doping offences (80% of UK banned athletes are ruggers)”

I don’t know about you, but I genuinely did not know this. I’ve heard of the odd case here and there but nothing that made it sound so prevalent.

Then I saw this:

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So I did some digging and went to the UKAD website and found THIS.

In summary, there are currently 46 banned athletes in the UK. Of these, 15 are rugby union and 12 are rugby league, a combined 60% of the total.

Whilst Mr Street was a little exaggerative with his 80%, it is still a shocking total.

Of the 15 Union players banned, 8 are (or were) affiliated with the WRFU, 6 with the RFU and 1 with the SRFU.

Beyond the initial surprise, my next thought was: what are they taking? The UKAD website clearly shows that the vast majority are steroid and growth hormone related, which obviously isn’t a surprise.

Rugby is a sport which has only been professional for 20 years and has seen a dramatic change in the shape of players: the attributes once required of a prop were the ability to drink 10 pints on a Friday and scrummage without vomiting on a Saturday. The world has changed.

Using the prop as an example, they’re still big units, but they train hard, work hard and, on the field, run and hit hard, too. As an upcoming player, that’s what you have to compete with. It’s basic genetics – if you aren’t 7ft tall, don’t expect a call from the NBA, and likewise, if you aren’t about 6ft of solid(ish!) muscle, hitting the heights in rugby is tough.

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In the last few years, rugby has changed immeasurably, too, on a financial front – whether it be the top stars drifting across to France or the influx of cash BT Sport has bought with it. Either way, there is a lot more to gain now from making it as a pro in rugby. You’re never going to retire a multi-millionaire from a club rugby career in England: the top players earn in a year what footballers earn in a week. But there are clearly worse alternatives and some players have clearly tried the shortcut to success.

Let’s break this list down though – most of you won’t have heard of any of the players currently banned. They’re mostly chancers hoping for a break and to sneak up the ladder. Even looking at some prior drug bans, globally, it is hardly a cause for concern:

Pieter de Villiers (South Africa) – banned for taking cocaine and ecstasy in 2003

Rupeni Caucaunibuca (Fiji) – cannabis (one of 4 Fijians I found banned for the same, around the same time – that must’ve been quite the party!)

Jean-Pierre Élissalde (France) – amphetamines (in the late 70s, never caught but admitted it in 2013)

Wendell Sailor (Australia) – cocaine

Matt Stevens (England) – cocaine

I’m a big fan of “second chances”, but drug taking in sport is one where no second chance should be allowed. By taking steroids, you can change your body shape and dynamic permanently and whilst a 2 year ban might get the system cleared of the traces, the effects have already been felt.

The recent example of Usain Bolt “saving his sport” in his victories over twice-convicted drug cheat Justin Gatlin might be above and beyond what is needed in the rugbysphere, but it is still a shame to hear of people cheating to achieve their dream. Off the back of “Building Jerusalem” and hearing the hard work and dedication that Messrs Wilkinson, Johnson and co. put in to winning a World Cup, it is sad to think what people will do.

Keep rugby clean.

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