Rugby league to investigate Kiwis' use of pills
SIMON PLUMB AND DAVID LONG
The New Zealand Rugby League is investigating whether players misused prescription drugs during the World Cup campaign.
Fairfax Media can reveal the NZRL is reviewing the unsuccessful defence of the World Cup, which culminated in a 34-2 defeat to Australia in the final at Old Trafford in Manchester on November 30.
NZRL chief executive Phil Holden says the first step in its review is determining players' access to prescription drugs, after concerns were raised by support staff about the Kiwis' "recovery practices" while on the Northern Hemisphere tour.
Under the microscope is whether players combined prescription sleeping pills with energy drinks.
Past media reports have suggested a number of league players in Australia have used such a combination, which is believed can have the same effects as recreational drugs without breaching the World Anti-Doping Code.
Holden says the NZRL probe will investigate whether the Kiwis' performance in the World Cup final was in any way inhibited by players' use of prescription drugs.
"I guess that [World Cup final] is part of it, one of the things we will look at in the review," Holden told Fairfax.
"There are some observations that the management team had and their concerns around the recovery practises of the players.
"The use of prescription medicine 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 use of prescription medication is really important and it's their [players'] access to this type of medication and them understanding the implications of not following the doctor or the prescribed method of use."
NRL chief medical officer, Ron Muratore, said the practice of combining prescription sedatives with energy drinks or other high-caffeine supplements was potentially dangerous.
"People talk about it all the time, how prevalent it is, and obviously, some of them [league players] are doing it," Muratore said.
"What probably happens is they take the energy drinks before the game and then they can't sleep and need something to help them.
"I 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 really silly."
Muratore was talking about the practice in a wider sense and not referring to players who may be investigated by the NZRL.
Tony Iro, the Kiwis' manager, says he's long been aware of the practice of mixing sedatives with energy drinks. But Iro, a former Warriors assistant coach, says he also believes the situation is not confined to rugby league.
"I have been in the NRL for 10 years, I've been aware of it for the whole of that time," Iro said.
"It's something the game needs to have a look at, not just this game, there are a lot of sports where this is a bit of an issue. It's nothing illegal, but where it's come from is the abstaining from alcohol and looking at other things.
"It's something that there needs to be an awareness of."
Holden says both the Crown's elite and recreational entities, High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) and Sport New Zealand, have been advised of the NZRL review and that the NZRL "wants to take a leadership position in this space".
"We want to establish, is this common practice across other sports?," Holden said.
Alex Baumann, chief executive of elite sports funding agency HPSNZ, says any such behaviour by sports people would be concerning.
"It is something we have to be on top of and I think that's where doing a proper review, these things will hopefully come out - if in fact they are there," Baumann said.
HPSNZ this year provided the NZRL with $400,000 in funding to support the Kiwis' World Cup campaign.
Prescription sleeping pills have been at the centre of other major sporting controversies across the Tasman, including triple Olympic swimming champion Grant Hackett admitting a "heavy reliance" on them during his career.
The Australian Olympic Committee banned athletes from using prescription sedatives at the 2012 London Olympic Games, though several swimmers were infamously caught defying the directive in a pre-Games "bonding session."
How excited are you about the 2014 Commonwealth Games?Related story: After the hype, time to let the Games begin