Rugby defends itself against Wada findings

IRB says high positive test results figure proves anti-doping programme successful

Irish players warm-up in the Keep Rugby Clean IRB anti-doping tee shirts before last month’s game in the  Junior World Championship match against  Fiji  at QBE Stadium, Albany,  New Zealand. Photograph:  Jason Oxenham/Getty Images

Irish players warm-up in the Keep Rugby Clean IRB anti-doping tee shirts before last month’s game in the Junior World Championship match against Fiji at QBE Stadium, Albany, New Zealand. Photograph: Jason Oxenham/Getty Images


Anti-doping figures released for last year indicate Rugby Union, on an international level, is showing a higher percentage of positive test results than either cycling or athletics.

The International Rugby Board yesterday welcomed the figures but said this does not mean rugby is less clean than other sports listed in the report.

The findings, which come from the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), are a result of the testing body combining all of their laboratory findings across Olympic sports in 2013.

The findings, taken from both blood and urine samples, were made public on July 8th.

The figures show rugby’s figure of 1.3 per cent is a higher Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) than both athletics and cycling, which both come in at 1. 2 per cent. An AAF means the presence of a prohibited substance or its metabolite was found in the sample.


“What it doesn’t mean is rugby is less clean than other sports,” said an IRB spokesman. “You cannot deduce that. What it shows is that an intelligent anti-doping program in rugby is working and catching those using illegal substances.

“We want to catch people using banned substances. A lot of our testing is targeted and we focus a lot on the Under 20s.

“Quite often positive tests would come from supplements. We know they are particularly susceptible there, so education is also a big part of our program. These figures show they will be tested and they will be caught if they use illegal substances.”

The figures include all analyses conducted by the 33 Wada- accredited laboratories for in- and out-of-competition testing and by the two additional laboratories that have been approved by Wada. Those laboratories conduct blood testing exclusively for one of the most important anti-doping tools to be introduced in recent years, the Athlete Biological Passport.

In all, 6,126 samples were taken in rugby across the 33 laboratories, which appears comparatively low compared to 22,252 taken in cycling and 11,585 in athletics. Cycling’s very high testing rate is because Wada targets sports that have proven to be drug user-friendly.

Forensic scrutiny

Cycling’s disgrace in previous years has attracted more forensic scrutiny. The figures are not broken down into constituent countries.

The samples in which rugby was included were for Olympic sports. Both rugby and golf will be part of the 2016 program in Rio, although in rugby only Seven’s is included. Golf returned an adverse finding of 0.4 per cent from a sample size of 483.

While Fifa revealed astonishingly good results for the recent World Cup in Brazil and had no positive tests from any players, football in general registered a figure of 0.5 per cent in 2013.

It is only the second time figures have been compiled by Wada in this way, where all accredited laboratories report their positive results. According to the organisation the results offer “the most robust and transparent reflection of the global state of anti-doping testing to date”.


In February, the IRB announced they had taken a record 1,831 in- and out-competition controls across men’s and women’s tournaments that resulted in just three anti-doping violations, equating to 0.16 per cent of the entire programme.

The IRFU did not wish to comment. “Our anti-doping program is in line with the International Rugby Board and Irish Sports Council Anti-Doping criteria and we believe that it is very robust. This is a global study and the IRFU are not in a position to comment,” a spokesman did say.

The average Wada figure for all the sports was 0.97 per cent.

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