Drug testing of schools rugby players on IRFU agenda, says Sport Ireland

Move follows testing of schoolboy players in New Zealand

The drug testing of schools rugby players in Ireland, now considered a risk area in the anti-doping community, is seen as an important issue the IRFU plans to tackle.

According to a Sport Ireland spokesperson, convincing the schools to comply and then testing players is high on the IRFU agenda.

Last week New Zealand triggered a debate on ethics, attitudes to drugs and social responsibility when Drugfree Sport New Zealand, the national anti-doping organisation, made the landmark decision to test schoolboy players for the first time.

It came after reports emerged from South Africa, Canada and England of drug use trickling down from the professional leagues to the top school teams. The decision to test the teenagers was supported by New Zealand prime minister Bill English.


“Schools rugby is not currently within Sport Ireland’s jurisdiction. Based on evidence in other countries, schools rugby could be a potential risk area,” said a Sport Ireland spokesperson. “The testing of schools rugby remains on the agenda with the IRFU.”


In New Zealand consent to testing is not required from parents because the tournament, the Top Four finals, is held under the auspices of New Zealand Rugby, a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Agency code.

In Ireland, schools rugby is not within the auspices of Sport Ireland or the IRFU and so they are not permitted to test schools players. While the governing body facilitates schools rugby it does not govern it, an anomaly that could be jeopardising the health of young players.

In Ireland it is now usual for the top Irish teenagers to enter provincial academies as a career path directly from school. The use of protein powders and supplements, although discouraged by Sport Ireland and the IRFU, is widespread.

“Sport Ireland would welcome any national governing body which wants to expand its testing programme to groups where there is a potential risk,” added the Sport Ireland spokesperson. “Sport Ireland would be happy to carry out testing if jurisdiction and other practical issues were resolved.”

Last week Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy forcefully placed rugby in a high-risk category of potential offenders 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.

Studies have shown that 15-30 per cent of powders bought off the internet are laced with anabolic steroids and other stimulants with Sport New Zealand saying it had information about trends and attitudes in young players that indicated “a significant potential for doping to occur”.

A 2013 study by the University of Otago in New Zealand surveyed 142 boys in the first XV rugby teams around the country, and found more than 70 per cent had used four or more supplements in the past six weeks, and five individuals had taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times