GAA drug-testing regime 'appropriate' - Sports Council
Gavin Cummiskey talks to Dr Una May about how Donegal captain can play seven inter-county seasons without being tested
Dr Una May, director of the anti-doping unit at the Irish Sports Council
Q. How does Michael Murphy, the Donegal captain get through seven seasons as an inter-county footballer without being tested?
“We plan our testing programme around the risks associated with sport. We have a whole criteria to plan how many tests we’ll do in any one sport and that’s around the risks associated with the sport itself. The obvious one being a sprinter is more at risk than a high jumper, for example, and whether there is a history of doping in the sport, there are plenty of criteria and we plan around that.
“You see it in our testing. Some sports get proportionally a lot more cycling, for example, we did 130 tests and in fencing we did two. So, they reflect what we consider to be the risk of the sport and the levels of performance within the sport.
“You also have to look at the number of athletes in a sport when it comes down to being tested. The GAA are talking about a couple of thousand players across the board (If you round the 51 championship panels across football and hurling to 30 players, the actual figure is closer to 1,530 players).”
“So, what are the chances of any one of them being tested in any one year? Last year we did 87 tests so they are not all going to be tested and it is a random system. In any one year the same guy could get tested twice. One guy could never be tested. That’s just the random nature of it.
“But Mr Murphy doesn’t know if he is going to be tested next week. That’s the point of it, because it is random there is a deterrent effect; they don’t know when they could be tested, in and out of competition. We could turn up at their training ground next week and them him.
“The point is he doesn’t know we are going to come so he has to abide by the rules on the basis that we could turn up.
“Realistically, within the context of a normal reasonable proportional budget spent on anti-doping that’s what we consider to be appropriate. It is not a sport that has a history of a problem of doping and I hope nobody is suggesting that it does have a problem.
“Mr Murphy himself seemed to be fairly clear that it doesn’t have a problem.”
Q. Citing half the amount of football/hurling tests in comparison to rugby, are resources an issue?
“We’re in a public body. Resources are low everywhere. Budget is cut across the board. Sport gets less funding than it used to a few years ago. Anti-doping gets less funding than it used to.
“In an ideal world we would have more funds available . . . resources are a problem for everybody.
“Within the context of the budget available to us we feel (the testing) is proportionate to the risks within the sport.”
There has been one positive test since the procedures were put in place in 2001. Kerry football Aidan O’Mahony tested positive for salbutamol in September 2008. In January 2009 the GAA’s anti-doping committee reprimanded O’Mahony, an asthmatic, as they “considered that the dose inhaled was in excess of that authorised on the therapeutic use exemption form submitted in relation to the player.”
However, O’Mahony did not receive a subsequent suspension as the committee, which included Dr Pat O’Neill, concluded that he had “not intended to enhance his sporting performance or mask . . . a performance-enhancing substance.”
Q. Is it surprising there have not been any positive tests for recreational drugs in GAA or mistakes with supplements?
“Well, that’s a question I have asked myself. The answer I have been give is maybe it is a different type of ethos. A different type of sport, a different demographic who play the sport and it is isn’t such an issue within that sport.
“I can’t answer that. I don’t know the sociology behind the difference of the players. There is as much a chance of a GAA player testing positive for recreational (drugs) as rugby. I don’t have an answer for why there have been more positives tests in rugby than GAA. That’s a sociological kind of question really.”
Q. In team sports are the majority of positive tests down to supplements with banned ingredients?
“It is a big risk area. It is not just team sport, it is across the board; we have a huge, huge problem with supplements. I mean the supplement industry is absolutely massive. Sport is one of their most significant target groups but not their only one.
“The commercialism behind the industry does not necessarily allow for the strict regulations within sport. The supplements industry isn’t regulated in the way the medicine industry is regulated, for example, and so contamination is an issue, labelling is an issue.
“Just general knowledge and information. When you go into a pharmacy you can ask the pharmacist for advice and you’ll get clear, unequivocal advice based on the medicine and what’s been approved. We can give people advice on what’s been approved and what they need to take. It’s really obvious what’s what. It’s a regulated industry.
“However, if you go into a gym and the supplement shop in the corner that is selling 50 different varieties of a protein shake, an athlete just gets swamped with an overload of information.