No schools testing likely in foreseeable future
Testing for performance-enhancing drugs in schools rugby is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
The Irish Sports Council began testing at age grade (from under-18) representative level last year but there remains a significant barrier to testing after the provincial schools matches or out-of-competition.
“The problem is governance,” explained Dr Brendan Buckley, chairman of the Sports Council’s anti-doping committee. “The IRFU doesn’t govern schools rugby and even though they facilitate schools competitions, they don’t own them. We are working to get around that problem at the moment, and it is fundamental to the whole issue of consent.
“It’s a process of negotiation. The IRFU are not holding back on this, they are very keen.”
However, representatives from prominent Leinster and Munster rugby schools confirmed yesterday that testing is not about to be introduced.
“We are aware that Ireland isn’t hugely different to other countries and we’ve had positive steroid findings in the Craven Cup in South Africa and there was that high-profile case in the UK where the son of a minister was banned for taking steroids and growth hormone,” Dr Buckley continued.
“I’m sure there isn’t a teenager playing a contact sport in Ireland, which requires strength and endurance, that hasn’t been tempted to take stuff.”
Legal grey area
Resistance, apparently, is not coming from within the schools but a legal grey area around testing minors. “No, we haven’t had active resistance,” said Dr Buckley. “People are just nervous about the legal process around this. We don’t want to commit an assault on somebody by insisting that they provide a urine or blood sample to us.”
What are the legal issues?
“Well, it is a two-part process: parental consent in most and assent by the students.”
There were no positive findings across Irish rugby in 2012 despite 64 out-of-competition urine and 16 blood tests conducted by the Sports Council.
There were an additional 16 post-match tests done on Irish soil by the Six Nations – across senior men’s, under-20s and women – with another 24 by the IRB and 12 by the ERC, while the IRFU did 36 separate tests themselves. Again, without any positive findings.
Of the 1,542 IRB tests in 2012, there were 21 confirmed anti-doping rule violations.
Dr Buckley was asked if this indicated that rugby does not have a serious doping problem or that there is not enough testing, especially blood testing.
“Well, we are not detecting doping in Ireland. Equally, the requirements for team sports in general are a lot less stringent than they are on individual athletes.”
Regular blood samples
An example of this being that an individual athlete must reveal their whereabouts all year round and the new biological passport system requires regular blood samples.
Dr Buckley’s resistance to supplement use, especially by underage rugby players, is long established. The use of supplements is widespread in underage rugby, creatine in particular, but several other types are readily accessible in gyms, online and health shops.
“My own belief is that creatine just gives you big, soft muscles that look different on MRI. Makes you get funny injuries like tearing across the belly of your calf. Fellas that take it in quantity will tell you they put on a ferocious amount of weight within a couple of weeks.
“If you are 18 or 19 years of age your skeleton is formed. If you are younger than that your skeleton isn’t formed. We are seeing injuries that are due to skeletal immaturity, with muscles that are over formed and heavy.
The injuries can, arguably, be related to the growing list of hip injuries sustained by maturing rugby players. “Those are injuries you never saw before but are now seeing in 18st 17-year-olds who are heavily bulked up, who are engaged in collisions for which their bones are not designed for at this stage.”
Dr Buckley concedes the battle to educate sports people about the dangers of supplements is ongoing. “It is a multi-million euro industry. You try to get parents to realise they shouldn’t be paying out €80, €90 a week for supplements, as is happening at the moment. Secondly, across all age groups, that they are risky to be taking.”