Southland Rams player Stacey Mikara banned for six months after failing drugs test
Southland rugby league representative Stacey Mikara has been handed a six-month ban from all sports after he tested positive for cannabis.
In a sample taken from Mikara during the New Zealand Rugby League Championship the Southland Rams player had the presence of cannabis.
The presence was higher than permitted under WADA's prohibited list.
The amateur league player tested positive for cannabis following a New Zealand Rugby League National Championship game against Taranaki in New Plymouth on September 17 last year.
The trip to New Plymouth was an historic one for Southland rugby league as they beat Taranaki 22-8 to advance to the New Zealand Rugby League Championship final against Waikato in Invercargill the following week.
It is now also a historic trip considering Mikara is the first Southland league player to be handed down a ban from Drug Free Sport NZ for drug use.
Mikara was initially suspended without any opposition last month.
He admitted to the violation but asked for a hearing as to the appropriate sanction.
Drug Free Sport NZ said Mikara's cannabis use was not taken to enhance his sporting performance and it stemmed from recreational use of cannabis.
The ban has been taken from January 17 which means Mikara will be able to return to playing sport on July 17.
The tribunal overseeing Mikara's hearing was encouraged by his remarks in regard to now "putting league ahead of marijuana."
He is hopeful that this "will provide a good example for other athletes who may be of the view that sport can accommodate the recreational use of cannabis."
Ironically a player from the Southland Rams opposition team, Taranaki, also tested positive for cannabis when he was tested on the same day.
Travell Ngatoko has also been handed a six-month ban from playing any sport.
Mikara and Ngatoko's bans have come on the back of Drug Sport New Zealand tightening the screws on those who use drugs across all levels, including amateur sports people.
Drug Free Sport NZ Chief Executive Graeme Steel said the two cases are yet another reminder to athletes that cannabis and other recreational drugs are prohibited in sporting competition.
"It's important for athletes from all codes and at all levels to recognise that social drugs and competitive sport do not mix," Steel said.
"The threshold for reporting cannabis was raised a few years ago, and these are the first cases that we've seen since then.
"The two cases highlight the fact that athletes can be tested at any time and there are severe consequences if they break the rules."
Southland District Rugby League president Jane Ballantyne was not able to be reached for comment on the ban.
Mikara has been a key figure in Southland rugby league circles in recent years both for the Cooks at club level and for the Southland Rams on the representative stage.
Meanwhile, the annual Winton Nines rugby league tournament will be played at the Midlands Rugby Club on Saturday.
Organisors are hopeful to have six teams lineup at the tournament which will kick-start the 2017 Southland rugby league season.
The new combined Southland-Otago club competition, to be played on Saturdays, will start on March 25.
Officials are hoping the competition will include four Southland teams and four Otago teams.