Is there now a drug problem in rugby?

There has to be serious concerns about the use of drugs by players in rugby with news that another three players have been suspended for anti-doping offences.

These players were in New Zealand we must state. The New Zealand Rugby judicial committee completed three anti-doping hearings and as a result of this all three players were given a two year ban for the possession and use or attempted use of banned substances. These charges were brought against players, Brandyn Laursen, Tukiterangi Raimona and Lionel Skipwith by Drug Free Sport New Zealand. following an investigation by MedSafe. The Judicial Committee heard that Laursen had been in possession, used or attempted to use the substance Clenbuterol. These offences were committed in 2013 and 2014 but he was only made of this in March 2018. Laursen said he took the substance if the off season to aid weight loss and the violations were not intentional. The second players Tukiterangi Raimona was in possession, used or attempted to use dianabol another banned substance. His offences were committed in 2015 an he was notified at the end of 2017. Raimona said he thought he was no longer bound by the Sports Anti-Doping agency as he wasn’t a registered player and at the time had no intention to play rugby, he admitted to taking the substance to aid and cope with the demands of manual work and gym routines. The third player Lionel Skipworth submitted that he didn’t know the substance Clenbuterol was a banned substance as he was a club rugby player and did not receive any education on the anti-doping regime. He accepted he took the substance in 2015 for fat burning and weight loss. The committee found his use was unintentional and they back dated his ban to September 2017.

For me there are very serious concerns about the Anti-Doping Programmes. For instance in the Aviva Premiership only 16 match day tests were carried out according to the Daily Mail UK. They report that in the UKAD’s most recent figures show that only 1,029 tests were carried out on all rugby union players between June 1st 2016 and May 31st 2017. They report that only 224 of these were carried out on English Premiership side clubs. In a statement the UKAD said regarding this ‘UKAD’s testing programme across all sports is intelligence-led and risk-based,’ he said. ‘We direct our resources to areas we consider to have the greatest threats to clean sport. In terms of rugby union, our greatest proportion of testing remains out of competition due to the higher risk of doping during such periods. ‘Of course, more testing can always take place with greater resources, however a successful anti-doping programme relies on more than just testing.

In rugby union in 2016 there were 66 failures from 2,673 tests in competition; compared to 54 failures from 4,693 out-of-competition tests. On that evidence rugby has clearly a drug problem and more needs to be done. Whether this is updating the anti-drug programme or doing more tests I am not quite sure but something seriously has to be done before the problem gets worse before it gets better.

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