Teams top list of missed drug tests but still not a major concern to Sports Council
GAA teams continue to top the list of missed drugs tests carried out by the Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping programme, and will soon be subjected to the more rigorous blood testing analysis along with the other main team sports.
Eight intercounty teams missed tests in 2012, or were not training at the location stated on the anti-doping whereabouts form: only two other sports in total were guilty of such an offence, soccer (three) and hockey (one).
GAA players were also subjected to a relatively high number of tests in 2012 – 87 in total, between football and hurling combined, and third in the overall list behind athletes (158) and cyclists (130), and ahead of sports like rugby (81) and soccer (46).
While the number of missed tests is of concern to Dr Una May, the Sports Council’s director of anti-doping, she admits too that the GAA is not considered “a high risk sport” for performance enhancing drugs, not that anyone is naive enough to think that will always be the case.
“The missed tests are something we have discussed with the GAA,” she says, “but we’re conscious of the nature of the GAA, that they often do change training venues because of weather conditions. What is agreed is that if counties aren’t at the specified training ground, but have moved somewhere else, then the county board pays a fine, or essentially covers our costs. It’s not a huge concern.
“Every one of those teams have paid their fines. But it’s still a relatively small number.
“We did 87 tests, football and hurling, which skews the figures a little. The reality is we don’t consider GAA to be a high risk sport, and time has told us that. We’re not deluded to think they’re exempt from the problem, or may potentially have a problem, but they’re not at the same risk as some other sports.”
What is certain, however, is the Sports Council is already shifted the focus of their testing onto blood, rather than urine, and that GAA players can expect that too: “We’ve more than doubled our blood testing in the last year, but it does take a while to build up a blood ‘profile’. But this is the way forward.
“Overall, the number of tests is down on last year, slightly, but we believe we are testing smarter, combining it with the right intelligence, so that we target the right athletes, and not just testing for the sake of it.
“But we’re only building up the blood testing, from last year, and we are already doing some in rugby. What we’ve done is identify the high risk sports, and also those that can offer the best value for our testing. We will filter that down over time. We’ll see it come into other sports, including boxing.”
The idea that the GAA is not “high risk” doesn’t mean that it is not be suitably targeted: “Relative to other countries, there is still a strong chance of being tested, and by using more intelligence, too.
“But the randomness of the testing is part of the appeal, in that counties don’t know when they’re going to be tested. I think we still do a basic, core amount of testing in the GAA. GAA testing is also carried out on a 32-county basis.
“What came out of the Australian Crime Commission last week was quite earth-shattering, and that’s why we can’t drop the level of testing in the GAA, or think they will always be immune.
“But if blood testing is to become mandated, we’d have to do that across the board. We’re sympathetic to the athletes and players too, but if they really care about clean sport, they will put up with these things.”