Doping. To most observers, it is something that takes place on a race track or on a cordoned off Champs-Élysées. Realistically, it can be much closer to home.
Whenever performance enhancing drugs are the topic of conversation, it is very easy to apply a black and white mentality approach.
The Tour de France, Vuelta a España and the Giro d’Italia are the pinnacle cycling events of the season. They are the races which garner the most attention and attract cycling’s biggest talents.
These races are littered with riders who have been found guilty of doping. Take Alberto Contador as an example.
Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour de France victory after being found guilty of doping in 2012.
Upon Contador’s retirement in 2017 there was a wave of support for the veteran.
Fans wishing his final race could be rewarded by winning the Vuelta. The active support for Contador upon his return from a doping ban was overwhelming.
The organisers of the Vuelta a España even honoured Contador, who wore the number one bib in his final race.
The number one bib is usually reserved for the race’s defending champion. The defending champion that year Nairo Quintana did not compete, so instead the Vuelta gave the number one bib to Contador, a known cheat, as a mark of respect!
In a sport intrinsic with drug cheats, with an active agenda of improving it’s image, the active support of fans and organisers for a man found guilty of doping is mind boggling.
When Chris Froome was found to have had twice the amount of recommended asthma medication in his urine sample, the sheer geographical distance and lack of real interaction with the sport of cycling allowed myself and the public to be ruthless with my our judgment.
His credibility is shot and he should receive a lengthy, if not a permanent ban.
Gerbrandt Grobler’s return to fitness has brought the war on doping well and truly closer to home and although it can be hard to understand cycling fans’ support of a cyclist found guilty of doping, the issue of Grobler’s return to rugby in Ireland has made their acceptance and forgiveness easier to grasp your head around.
The last time doping in rugby came to the fore so close to home, Chiliboy Ralepelle, who served a two-year ban for taking the anabolic steroid drostanolone, was selected by the Springboks on their 2017 November tour.
A tour that would bring them to Lansdowne Road.
There was something that didn’t sit right. A proven doper, earning an international honour at the Aviva Stadium.
Again, although doping in rugby was brought to our shores, it was a touring presence.
A presence that didn’t linger long enough to raise a loud enough question. Subsequently, Ralepelle was not part of the match day 23 and played no part.
Grobler is a different circumstance, the South African has made Ireland home, if only for the season.
It was well known that Grobler arrived in Munster with a record of doping.
His return from his ban with then Racing Metro 92 was well documented. However, the severity of Grobler’s doping hadn’t been properly addressed in Ireland upon his signing.
It’s taken his return from an ankle injury and a real chance of wearing the jersey for his doping to be aired.
Since his selection for Munster A, Garrett Fitzgerald, CEO of Munster Rugby, has been asked to answer for Grobler’s arrival, new head coach Johann van Graan has been asked to provide an answer on Grobler’s doping.
Irish internationals Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray have been asked to comment too.
Johan van Graan has set the tone on Munster’s stance towards Grobler’s doping:
“I believe life is very simple,”
“All of us sitting here, everybody in life makes mistakes. I believe life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it.
“He served his ban.”
The fact of the matter is, Munster and the IRFU allowed Grobler to put pen to paper and the South African is now a Munster player. People are just going to have to deal with it.
The one person who hasn’t been called upon to comment on Grobler’s doping history is the one man who is responsible for bring him to Munster, Rassie Erasmus.
The former Director of Rugby lit the fuse and left before he could see it go off.
Now, Johann van Graan is left to defend a player found guilty of doping whether he agrees with his signing or not, the head coach must now clean up after and hold his name alongside an agenda that he didn’t set.
Not one person within Munster Rugby has provided anything more than platitudes to justify Grobler’s signature and they shouldn’t have to.
It is hard to believe that Rassie Erasmus is totally oblivious to the pressure being put on his former team Munster in relation to employing a man found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs.
So much was made of the South African’s feelings towards the southern province, if it were all to be true, a statement should be made by the former Director of Rugby explaining his rationale behind recruiting a player found guilty of doping.
Now that the topic of doping has been brought well and truly to home, my black and white approach has been dulled significantly. I now find myself agreeing with Eddie O’Sullivan.
Speaking on Off The Ball, O’Sullivan commented:
“The guy obviously got caught red-handed, he admitted it, he got his time and he did his time. Van Graan’s argument is valid, he has paid his price.
“I would find it very hard to ban him for life on the basis of what happened.
“I would say he has served his time.”
Similarly to arguments made about the three-year residency rule, the problem is not with any individual player but with the overriding rule. Grobler should never have been allowed to sign for Munster in the first place.
The IRFU’s process of signing off on imported players failed.
Now that Gerbrandt Grobler his here, having served his ban, you can’t bemoan his presence in Munster.
Despite this rationale, there’s no denying that Rassie Erasmus brought the problem of a doper to Munster and left Van Graan to answer for it.
Billy Keenan, Pundit Arena