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Is There A Doping Problem In Rugby?

Australian sports was shocked by the doping scandal around Australian Rules side the Essendon Bombers in 2013, but as the appeals against 34 player bans and some of the medical and coaching staff came out today, the eyes of the world, and not just Victoria, focused on the doping issue.

Staff set up an extensive system of using peptide hormones, a substance that can help muscle growth.

On the 8th of December, Dutch talk show RTL Late Night, hosted by lawyer and sports journalist Humberto Tan, had as its guests Scotland’s Tim Visser and German soccer journalist Thomas Kistner.

Kistner spoke about his book ‘Shot’, in which he exposes the extent of doping in soccer, particularly in Germany. He mentioned the extensive use of doping in the seventies and eighties at VfB Stuttgart and SC Freiburg, and the way both FIFA and UEFA kept everything hushed up. He mentioned that particularly stuff like EPO was used widely. According to him there was also a high number of players who tested positive for recreational drugs. Lastly he told of how FIFA and UEFA both only test a few players after matches, but not out of competition.

The other guests around the table then asked Visser about doping in rugby, and he said he did not know of a single case. He claims that he and his Edinburgh and Harlequins team mates were tested routinely, had to be available for testing at all times and had to give their whereabouts to the doping authorities.

He said he would not be surprised if a lot of guys felt under pressure to cheat though, given how the size and shape of rugby players has changed since professionalism entered rugby. But he was confident it was not done on the top level, because it was almost impossible to get away with.

At the elite level of rugby union the checks are rigorous and World Rugby only reported three cases of doping prior to the World Cup at that level. All involved means of trying to increase body size.

However, the UK’s anti doping agency, UKAD names English rugby as the sport where the largest amount of doping offenders are found. In September 2015 they reported finding 47 doping sinners in the UK, 16 of which played rugby union, and 12 of whom played rugby league.

These were mainly found at the levels just below the elite, but it would seem the problem is big there.

There were also accusations surrounding Toulon, and their connections to local pharmacies. The club is still under investigation from French prosecutors. The French are notorious for coming down hard on doping. Look at the scandal around Dutch cycling team TVM, and you’ll understand the lengths they will go to to dig up the truth.

World Rugby also come down hard on the transgressors. In 2009 England and Bath prop Matt Stevens was handed a two year ban for using cocaine. Chiliboy Ralepelle is serving the last few months of his two year ban for use of anabolic steroids.

And unlike FIFA and UEFA, it does seem the rugby world puts it out in the open. While the numbers might seem sketchy, they can certainly not be accused of not being thorough. Nor can they be accused of a lack of transparency.

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