Drugs watchdog urged to target real cheats
Rugby's international players have challenged the world's anti-doping authority to move away from trying to be "social police" and to concentrate on the fight against performance-enhancing drugs.
The International Rugby Players Association (Irpa) recently held its annual conference in Dublin and representatives also attended the World Federation of Player Associations summit in Switzerland.
Yesterday Irpa released a media briefing outlining its stance on the major issues in the game, and it was interesting to see Wada's fight against drug cheats being among the topics highlighted.
In a strongly worded statement, Irpa had a fair crack at Wada, urging that performance-enhancing drugs should be its "sole focus" and that recreational drugs should not be part of its brief.
It also slammed the continued punishment of "innocent athletes" caught up in the system through "administrative errors".
Irpa said it had become frustrated that the Wada programme seemed more focused on "dealing with recreational drugs and tripping up innocent athletes than actually nailing the cheats".
New Zealand players boss Rob Nichol is Irpa's executive director and chief spokesman, and yesterday he said that the world's rugby players, indeed all sportspeople, were fully behind Wada's battle against drug cheats.
"But we are challenging Wada and saying ‘how effective are you?' In over 50 per cent of cases it's not a matter of cheating, it's more administrative stuff-ups, like forgetting to fill in the Therapeutic Use Exemption form, or inadvertently not updating their whereabouts correctly.
"It's about saying we need to get targeted and we need to focus on catching cheats."
Irpa firmly believes recreational drugs should not be part of Wada's brief.
"The systems around anti-doping are clogged up dealing with people who have been done for smoking cannabis," added Nichol. "In some instances we're talking amateur athletes . . . it's not performance-enhancing. Since when did Wada become the social police?"
Nichol understood social drugs had been included because Wada depended on government money, but said this was only "clogging the system and using up resources that could be better applied to actually catching people who are doping".
Nichol emphasised that the players' associations were not condoning social drug use, merely prioritising.
"The message we're giving is ‘Wada, get focused, work out what your role is and what your role is not and get quite ruthless about that because we need you doing a good job'."
Irpa also addressed the vexed issue of the game's judicial system for foul play, recommending the involvement of recently retired players, better use of the television match official (TMO) in the citing process and a new sanctioning regime that suspends on games, not weeks.
Nichol said having the TMO and a recently retired player making the call on citings could add some much-needed consistency to the system.
"Maybe go so far as to say don't worry about the pressure of red cards, referees, if you see an act of foul play you think warrants yellow give it yellow and let the TMO and retired player decide whether it gets upgraded to red or not."
In the Irpa media briefing Nichol also spoke out on mental health and concussion.
He said rugby faced serious challenges dealing with the mental health of its players both during their careers and afterwards.
"A lot is done physically but mentally there's a lot more we could be doing.
"We did a survey as part of a retired player research project that gave us the insight needed and confidence to start raising this issue," said Nichol. "Close to a third of our guys struggled big-time on retirement."
Concussion, said Nichol, was all about the sport doing everything in its power to minimise risk for its athletes.
"It's about being able to put our hand on our heart and say as a game we're taking it really seriously and doing as much as we can to protect players the best we can."
Among other topics Irpa looked strongly at were the global season structure and international player release regulations. Nichol said the key here was to get the former right and the latter would take care of itself.