Kiwis pill probe campaign is backed by DFSNZ
SIMON PLUMB, DAVID LONG AND TONY SMITH
Drug Free Sport New Zealand has welcomed a New Zealand Rugby League probe into potential misuse of prescription drugs but said the effects on performance were ''likely to be negligible''.
NZRL chief executive Phil Holden has confirmed it will address the issue in a wide-ranging review of the World Cup tournament which ended with the Kiwis' 34-2 defeat to Australia in the final in Manchester, England on November 30.
Under the microscope is whether players combined prescription sleeping pills with energy drinks - a practice reportedly widespread in Australia's National Rugby League competition.
The combination - believed to have the same effects as recreational drugs - does not breach the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) code.
NRL chief medical officer Ron Muratore said the practice of combining prescription sedatives with energy drinks or other high-caffeine supplements was potentially dangerous.
He thought users were probably taking the energy drinks before a game ''and then they can't sleep and need something to help them''.
He said he ''would urge them not to''.
''In effect, they're potentially doing themselves a lot of harm. They're taking something to bring them up and then taking something to bring them down, which seems silly.''
Kiwis manager and former Warriors assistant-coach Tony Iro said the practice of mixing sedatives with energy drinks had been around the NRL for at least 10 years, but their use was not confined to rugby league.
Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ) chief executive Graeme Steel said it would be a concern if a ''mindset'' existed in professional sport that mixing prescription drugs and energy drinks or caffeine supplements could boost performance.
''It's not the first time we've heard of it. It's not something we can get involved in, but our concern would be it shows there's a mindset among some athletes.''
Using pills with energy drinks was ''only a short step from what went on at Cronulla and Essendon'', Steel said, referring to the sports supplement rules breaches that rocked the Cronulla Sharks rugby league club and the Essendon Australian Rules club.
Steel said it would be a concern if players were administering the pills and drinks themselves, but it would be ''an even bigger concern'' if they were being administered by ''docs and pseudo sports scientists''.
It would be worrying if it became ''de riguer'' that players had to take such substances ''because everyone is doing it''.
''The ability of these things to improve performance is, at best, unproven and is likely to be negligible.''
Steel said DFNZ could not comment on the medical side-effects.
''Our job is to try and preserve the environment that protects the athlete from getting involved with these kinds of things where there is no good science.
''Think back to where cycling started. Before EPO and steroids, it was stimulants. They took them at the start of the day and then took morphine to put them to sleep at night.''
Holden said the NZRL had heard of concern from some of the Kiwis' management team about the recovery practices of some players.
''The use of prescription medication in this way [in combination with energy drinks] is something we want to have a good look at.
''We're concerned about it from a player welfare perspective and whether it's an appropriate use of that type of medication.''
The Australian Olympic Committee banned athletes from using prescription sedatives at the 2012 London Olympic Games, although several swimmers were caught defying the directive.
What sport should Israel Folau play?Related story: (See story)