Bernard Brogan unhappy with GAA’s drug-testing blood plan
Dublin All Star says amateur players are doing it for parish have no incentive to cheat
Bernard Brogan: Needles going into the arms of GAA players too invasive and may not be well received by those who play Gaelic games. Photograph: Inpho
The GAA may not have as smooth a ride as they might have hoped with yesterday’s confirmation that blood testing will be introduced to the sport next year.
Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan believes that needles going into the arms of GAA players is too invasive a procedure and may not be well received by those who play Gaelic games.
The testing, which is due to begin on January 1st 2016, will be carried out on senior intercounty players, who are currently the only GAA players to be tested by Sport Ireland.
Speaking as president of the Federation of Irish Sport at the launch of their annual review, the All-Ireland-winning Dublin footballer said that blood testing was not the right way for the GAA to protect itself from dope cheats.
“Like any sport . . . obviously to win an All-Ireland is an amazing thing and people will do anything to get there . . . Do I think there’s a need to go into blood testing? No. We’re amateur footballers, we’re very proud of what we do,” said Brogan.
“Do I think there’s going to be any abuse of that? I’d be very surprised. To get blood tested is a bit aggressive, I think. But, as I say, we’ll just kind of get on with whatever we do. We have nothing to hide. No one has anything to hide in the GAA.
“We’re a special sport. If that’s what they need to do to make themselves feel as if the sport is pure, that’s what has to be done. It’s not something I think is the right route. To go in and take blood out of someone to prove that they’re not cheating is a strange one.”
Urine testing, already part of the anti-doping programme in the GAA, can determine a wide range of banned substances in the system. However, blood testing allows for the detection of additional agents, as well as the collection of longitudinal data, which monitors bio markers over time to detect the use of performance enhancing substances or methods.
Two such blood tests would be for EPO and Human Growth Hormone (hGH). According to the majority of international experts, blood is the most suitable for the detection of hGH, which in urine is found in extremely small quantities – less than 1 per cent of that found in blood.
“It’s like anything. You look even at cycling, there’s always ways of cheating the system in any sport – there’s always ways,” says Brogan.
“It comes down to where do you draw the line on that? Do you start taking hair samples? I remember in 2011 when we won the All-Ireland, I got tested, obviously a urine sample. We’d won our first All-Ireland in 16 years and I had to stand in a toilet with some lad and drink a load of water because I was dehydrated.
“It’s invasive for a sport that people aren’t getting paid to do. It’s an amateur game. We do it for our parish and for family and friends. In other sports you’d see there’s millions of quid on the line and cheating means so much but I don’t know what drugs there are out there.
“But I’m sure they’re very expensive . . . whatever there is that you’d be testing for in blood samples. I’m sure they’re not easy to get your hands on and I’m sure they’re not cheap. So do people go to those measures in a sport that isn’t paying you anything? I’d be very surprised. But if that’s what needs to be done, that’s what needs to be done.”
There is a potential way out in the GAA’s system and it is disconcerting. In explaining how blood testing works, yesterday’s statement contained a specific note.
“If you have a phobia of needles you should inform the team doctor at the start of the season so as the doping control officer and blood collection officer can be informed if you are selected for a test,” explains the note.
On the face of it, the ‘phobia’ argument undermines the whole concept. Brogan was being flippant when he said: “There’ll be a few phobias coming up!”
But history tells us a high proportion of athletes in other sports contracted asthma in order to legitimately use certain medical products. There could be some truth in what he says.
“Yeah, like at the end of the day, we’re all Gaels and we all want our sport to be seen in the manner that it is and the culture that it portrays,” says Brogan. “If that’s what needs to be done to stand shoulder to shoulder with different sports, that’s what needs to be done.”
In addition the GAA have rejected the idea of a temporary substitute coming into games for a player suspected of having concussion.
The medical, scientific and welfare committee will not be recommending the introduction of a “concussion sub”.
Arising from a motion to the 2015 GAA Annual Congress,Dr Kevin Moran said that having given the matter detailed consideration the view was that the current concussion guidelines were the best approach and that the focus should be on the continued education of its players and members.
“If there is any doubt at all as to whether a concussion has been sustained, a player should be removed from play,” said Dr Moran, adding that there was no test available that assured the accuracy of pitch-side assessment.