Irish Sports Council to look at loophole in anti-doping code

Council ‘open for business’ if GAA is willing to contribute to user-pays test system

The loophole in the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) code that allowed Kerry footballer Brendan O'Sullivan compete after he was found to have had a prohibited substance in his system will be addressed by the Irish Sports Council (ISC) at its next Wada review.

Speaking after a media briefing on how Sport Ireland (SI) conducts and approaches the drug-testing programme in Ireland, chief executive John Treacy said that although it considered GAA a low-risk sport, the O'Sullivan case highlighted the inadequacy of the code.

O’Sullivan twice appealed proposed bans from SI and the GAA’s anti-doping committee. O’Sullivan first appealed the provisional suspension, which is uncommon in athletes. That, according to the rules, allowed him to continue playing with Kerry.

Treacy added that neither the GAA or the player did anything incorrectly, although the situation became absurd as O’Sullivan served his suspension in two relatively short bursts after ingesting a contaminated nutritional compound.


“I think the issue around Brendan O’Sullivan was the provisional suspension being lifted,” said Treacy. “That was the real issue that the media didn’t understand...because it was appealed. That was the fundamental question. How did that happen [O’Sullivan was allowed to play] and the media also said ‘oh, how did that happen?’

“It is allowed under the rules. It was applied under the rules, and we had no choice. It’s the same for every sport. I would imagine that when we are reviewing the Wada code the next time we will be raising that point. Because the point is very valid. You lift the provisional [suspension] and you’ve then no motive to get the case heard.”

Open for business

Treacy added that the Irish Sports Council was “open for business” if the GAA showed a willingness to contribute to the user-pays system that is in place, which allows for governing bodies to pay for testing of their athletes. The GAA does not subscribe to the system, while the IRFU pays for dozens of tests on its players every year.

On average the cost of each test from collection to laboratory is €500. Last year the Irish Sports Council spent a total of €1,755,169 across testing, education, research and salaries. Just two athletes were sanctioned during that period in Paralympic cycling and motorcycling.

“We are open for business,” said Treacy. “If an NGB [national governing body] wished to use the user-pays system we would welcome it. But in saying that, the GAA is not a high-risk sport in our view. But we are open for business.”

Treacy placed rugby in a high-risk category along with cycling and athletics, explaining that global trends showed the greater the financial rewards the more likely athletes would use banned substance to get ahead.

He outlined the serious issues that have beset cycling and athletics, and compared those sports to rowing, where there are very little financial incentives and no serious doping issues even though athletes would significantly benefit in performance if they decided to risk cheating.

Correlates to money

“I think worldwide if you look at positive tests, it always correlates to money in the sport,” said Treacy. “If you look at rowing, because there’s not much money in it or because there hasn’t been much money in it – they are not millionaires – you would have very little positive tests in rowing. It’s the nature of the sport.”

Although in the high-risk category, no elite rugby players have served doping suspensions in Ireland over the last decade, while very few if any top players at a global level have been caught. Surely one of the greatest anomalies in sport.

“We generally view sports as high risk which are generally athletics and cycling, and rugby would be somewhat high-risk as well,” said Treacy.

“What I would say is we run a programme. The IRFU do a user-pay. The World Rugby do as well in terms of internationals here.

“The Six Nations does a user-pay as well. Everybody that we deal with in terms of rugby pays for user-pay drug tests. This is something that we welcome. But we can only go on the results that we actually find.”

Whereabouts system

Treacy added that GAA players were adequately tested even though they do not subscribe to the whereabouts system. This system puts the onus on individuals to inform their governing bodies where they are at all times so they can be tested at anytime, almost anywhere in the world.

“We haven’t gone there yet [with GAA]. But again it is something we would continue to review,” said Treacy. “Again, if we did think we had a serious issue I think it would be something we would be pushing very hard.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times