Every anti-doping report comes across as a gentle stand-off between certain realities and perceptions and the latest edition from Sport Ireland is no exception. Now in its 20th year, costing just under €2 million, it failed to report what might be considered even one seriously pressing anti-doping case.
Of the 1,303 anti-doping tests carried out across 36 sports – a 17 per cent increase on the previous year – there were seven rule violations in all, four of which are still considered “pending”. Depending on the exact interpretation, it means Ireland is pretty squeaky clean when it comes to doping, or perhaps the testing isn’t quite doing its job. Either way anti-doping is considered to be more about the deterrent than the positive returns.
While his name doesn't actually feature among the rule violations, the case of Munster and Ireland rugby prop James Cronin was still the centre of attention in the anti-doping report for 2019. Of those 1,303 anti-doping tests, seven rule violations, and the four still considered "pending", Sport Ireland did confirm Cronin's case is among them.
Following Munster's Champions Cup draw with Racing 92 at Thomond Park last November, Cronin returned an adverse analytical finding for prednisolone (a synthetic steroid) and prednisone (a synthetic drug similar to cortisone) which resulted in a one-month suspension.
Cronin was found to bear “no significant fault or negligence” due to a “very serious mistake by a pharmacy” that gave him a banned substance meant for another client. Both Munster and the player accepted an independent judicial officer’s decision to make the 29-year-old “ineligible” between April 15th to May 16th, even if there is no rugby being played due to Covid-19.
However, Sport Ireland is now considering an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (as is the World Anti-Doping Agency and World Rugby), as is within their rights.
None of the three cases from 2019 already concluded were for performance-enhancing violations, while the three other "pending" cases do not include the recent case of Carlow's Ray Walker as that test was carried out earlier this year.
"We are currently reviewing it [the Cronin case]," said John Treacy, CEO of Sport Ireland. "We've made no decision yet, but we are reviewing the case as we speak. There is a timeline, in that we have 21 days, which will take us to the middle of May sometime."
Asked if the apparent leniency of the penalty was a factor, given there is no rugby being played, Treacy said: “That is the case, that’s why we’re reviewing it.”
The three cases of rule violations from 2019 which have been concluded have already been announced by Sport Ireland. They include 21-year-old Irish amateur wrestler Peter Newti and 31-year-old motor racing driver Stanislaw Ukieja, who both tested positive in-competition for cannabinoid, and have already served their three- and four-month bans respectively.
League of Ireland footballer Brandon Miele is still serving a two-year ban after the St Patrick’s Athletic player failed to submit a sample when required to do so last April. (Miele contested that he struggled to provide a full sample and then left without doing so out of concern for his four-year-old daughter after being informed by his partner that she had fallen).
None of those cases are considered performance-enhancing, in other words: one of the three "pending" cases is also for a failure to submit a test, while in the 2018 anti-doping report the only positive case was of Irish amateur boxer Evan Metcalfe, who also tested for the cannabis derivative carboxy-THC.
Asked whether these latest cannabinoid cases add to the argument for its removal from the banned list, Treacy said: “Once it’s on the banned list, we’re going to continue to test for it. It [the question] is something that comes up on a very regular basis, and we do have these cases every year, but we apply the rules and the regulation, until such a time as a substance is taken off the list.”
Testing on rugby players in 2019 is up almost 60 per cent from two years ago, and Sport Ireland now considers it a more high risk sport than athletics, boxing, and swimming.
Cronin has also volunteered to participate in an educational forum to help raise awareness with other rugby union players “so as to ensure that my experiences can be avoided by other athletes”.
Treacy however said lack of education was no excuse when it came to any doping offence, inadvertent or otherwise.
“I think that every athlete, with all the information out there, should be aware that everything needs to be checked. As I said, we’re reviewing this particular case, and would also highlight today that every athlete who is taking any substance should check it on our website.
“All that information is out there, available at your fingertips, and whether you’re professional or amateur, you should be testing the medications you are on.”