From Love Is­land to Ge­ordie Shore: pro­tect­ing the im­age of clean rugby

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - Ian o’rior­dan

There were a few men­tions this week of prime Ar­gen­tinian beef, in rugby speak that is, the gen­tle irony be­ing there is very lit­tle meat on the puma. The puma also be­ing a vo­ra­cious car­ni­vore how­ever the thread is still jus­ti­fied.

Plus there were no short­age of beef cakes among the Ar­gen­tinian team train­ing at UCD, even in the eyes of a de­vout veg­e­tar­ian such as my­self. There’s talk of some them be­ing slightly leaner cuts this sea­son, es­pe­cially their at­tack­ing brio of full­back Emil­iano Bof­felli and wings Bautista Del­guy and Ramiro Moy­ano, who still carry 566 pounds of beef be­tween them.

Ei­ther way there’s still the re­al­i­sa­tion that if Ar­gentina are to stand any chance of beat­ing Ire­land at the Aviva Sta­dium on Satur­day evening it’s by pound­ing them into sub­mis­sion. It’s why Joe Sch­midt has beefed up his Ire­land team by send­ing out his strong­est 15, save for in­juries. Spicy stuff, in­deed.

Served up along­side Eng­land’s show­down with world cham­pi­ons New Zealand at Twick­en­ham, plus Wales against Aus­tralia, it seems in­ter­na­tional rugby has rarely been in a bet­ter place, even for the so-called au­tumn se­ries, and bet­ter still with an im­age and rep­u­ta­tion that is largely in­tact, no easy feat by mod­ern sport­ing stan­dards. Rugby is the new ci­tius, al­tius,

for­tius, and there’s no turn­ing back on that now.

Vi­o­la­tions

A lit­tle lost in the build-up to this week­end’s games was Tues­day’s An­nual Clean Sport Fo­rum, the UK’s largest anti-dop­ing con­fer­ence, suit­ably staged at the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium in Cardiff. Or­gan­ised by UK Anti-Dop­ing (UKAD), the first item on the menu was the ever-in­creas­ing size in the num­ber of anti-dop­ing vi­o­la­tions in rugby.

UKAD make it their busi­ness to pub­lish these vi­o­la­tions, once the cases are con­cluded, and of the 70 vi­o­la­tions cur­rently pub­lished on their web­site, 25 are in rugby union, an­other 12 are in rugby league, and mostly all for an­abolic steroids. That’s over half the num­ber of all anti-dop­ing vi­o­la­tions in the UK – and sig­nif­i­cantly more than ath­let­ics (five), and cy­cling (six), de­spite these sports be­ing more reg­u­larly tested (and tra­di­tion­ally more at risk).

Club play­ers

In rugby union, English play­ers have re­turned the most pos­i­tives (14), closely fol­lowed by Wales (nine), and then Scot­land (two). What they share in com­mon is that they’re club play­ers, on the far fringes, at best, of in­ter­na­tional level. What most also seem to share is this de­sire to sim­ply beef them­selves up rather than en­hance per­for­mance, not that it makes the num­bers any less alarm­ing.

In his wel­com­ing ad­dress, UKAD chair Trevor Pearce, sug­gested that part of the chal­lenge now is that young men and women are chas­ing “a so­cial me­dia in­spired Love Is­land body, aided by the in­creas­ing avail­abil­ity of steroids”. Much of the test­ing car­ried out at this level is in­tel­li­gence-led, the Welsh Rugby Union work­ing closely with Pub­lic Health Wales (PHW), for what are now be­ing termed Im­age and Per­for­mance En­hanc­ing Drugs (Ipeds).

“Our re­search found 56 per cent of peo­ple us­ing Ipeds used them for aes­thetic rea­sons, not per­for­mance,” agreed Dean Acre­man of PHW. “One of the find­ings was they [some par­tic­i­pants] said they wanted to look like in­di­vid­u­als from Love Is­land and Ge­ordie Shore.”

Of the nine Welsh rugby union play­ers with an anti-dop­ing vi­o­la­tion Maredydd Fran­cis is among the most re­cent, the cap­tain of RGC 1404, a Prin­ci­pal­ity Pre­mier­ship team. He was last month handed a four-year ban af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for a cock­tail of drugs, in­clud­ing nan­drolone and testos­terone.

It may be a long way from Love Is­land or Ge­ordie Shore to in­ter­na­tional rugby, but when all this is hap­pen­ing at the so-called grass­roots level of the sport, and not so far from our shores, there may be a warn­ing in there some­where.

The prob­lem with South African rugby also seems to start from the bot­tom up, rather than the other way round, with re­ports last month that six un­der­age play­ers, aged 16 to 18, tested pos­i­tive for a sim­i­lar cock­tail of steroids dur­ing the Craven Week tour­na­ment last July.

Warn­ing signs

There is no sug­ges­tion what­so­ever any­thing like that is hap­pen­ing on these shores, but there are some warn­ing signs none­the­less – the Health Prod­ucts Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity (HPRA) last month started a new na­tional ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign, “Zero Gains”, to high­light the dan­gers of an­abolic steroid use, par­tic­u­larly among young men.

And for good rea­son: the use of an­abolic steroids has in­creased ten­fold in Ire­land since 2015, the 449,411 units of ready-to-use an­abolic steroids seized in Ire­land last year up more than 300 per cent on the 2016 amount. A HPRA sur­vey also found that one in five of those aged be­tween 18 and 34 would con­sider tak­ing an­abolic steroids.

This is all part of what the IRFU’s zero tol­er­ance on dop­ing must hold out against, and their pro­gramme and ed­u­ca­tion are among the most ro­bust around. Last year, Sport Ire­land car­ried out 145 tests in rugby, now the third high­est af­ter cy­cling (189) and ath­let­ics (188), and up on the 113 in 2016. They also car­ried out an ad­di­tional 28 user-pay tests on be­half of the IRFU, more than any other Ir­ish sport. The im­age and rep­u­ta­tion re­mains in­tact, the chal­lenge, like any good serv­ing of beef, is in keep­ing it that way.

our re­search found 56% of peo­ple us­ing Ipeds used them for aes­thetic rea­sons

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