Drug testing in Rugby Union still covers too many gray areas

Had the two players been proven guilty, a two year sentence would have been normal.South African rugby internationals Bjorn Basson and Chiliboy Ralepelle were found innocent of doping charges today and cleared to play in the Super 15. This news come two months after both players failed a post-game drug test at the Autumn Internationals, due to the presence of methylhexaneamine (MHA) in their systems.

Both players originally proclaimed their innocence and both were cleared following an inquiry by the SARU; the disciplinary panel found that the substance had been accidentally present in a pre-game supplement taken by the South Africa squad before their 23-21 win over Ireland.

If found guilty, Basson and Ralepelle could have a faced under two year suspension under the rules of the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA); MHA is believed to increase the heart rate of athletes. As MHA was ruled a specified supplement, the ruling came under IRB regulations which can protect a player if it can be known how the stimulant entered the body.

The SARU defended their use of the supplement, claiming that full precautionary tests had taken place to make sure the supplement fit the WADA guidelines; clearly along the way the supplement was somehow tainted. Basson and Ralepelle were the fall guys for the SARU’s mistake and no further punishment was levied.

It does, however, raise the question as to drug testing and the safeguarding of drug use in professional Rugby. In this case, if the supplement was indeed taken by the South Africa twenty two man squad, does this not mean that every player in the side was tainted with an illegal substance and so played illegally? The SARU should be punished for their mistake, and certainly the Ireland-South Africa autumn test score should be scratched.

It would certainly seem that the SARU have weaselled their way out of a potential issue, sorting out the issue internally and keeping it as quiet as possible. Rugby’s approach to drugs seems to be as soft as that of Baseball, where no drug testing takes place except in a few minor leagues; if the players are going to be tested, why are the results ignored?

If one looks at the case of Alberto Contador, the elite Spanish cyclist, he was recently banned for 1 year for having a banned substance in his body, despite his claim that he received it from contaminated meat.

He will no doubt appeal his ban, but he will not have his union the RFEC protect him, in the ways the SARU did for Basson and Ralepelle. A stricter policy and more regular policing of it needs to come about in rugby, and the IRB and WADA should look into this case further. What are your opinions on drugs in rugby, and in sport in general?

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