The RFU published it’s annual anti-doping report for the season 2014-2015 back in December, it’s a report that gets referred to occasionally but rarely reported on. This is the second year that I have read this report and here is my review of what it says.
I reviewed the last report as part of a bigger piece pulling together the different reports on doing. At the time there were serval investigations into doping going on but they quietly went away after a while. There has not been much reporting on doping recently and as I have said before, if it’s going to be kept under control there needs to be a consistent focus on it.
First up, credit to the RFU for it’s transparency and production of this report. It’s not something that I’m aware of other unions doing so it’s not possible to compare what the different unions are doing in this battle. For a 23 page document of this type it’s surprisingly readable so please go and have a read of the details.
The report is split into 2 sections, covering the Anti Doping Program and the RFU Illicit Drugs Program. The Anti-Doping Program follows WADA and UK Anti-Doping guidelines and rules. The RFU Illicit Drugs Program is an extra program that the RFU decided to implement in addition to the rules that it has to comply with by World Rugby regulations.
Before we get into the numbers the report covers the education that is provided to all Aviva Premiership Rugby and Greene King IPA Championship clubs in pre-season. Also all England age group representative squads and regional academies also receive education. They also go on to about the testing and other eduction initiatives. What is still missing though is online training with a test like has been introduced for concussion awareness. It would make sense to have a pack of online training and tests to make sure that all players get annual refresher training.
We often hear that Rugby has the most doping bans of any sport in the UK and that the issue is not at the professional level but amongst those trying to get into professional rugby. So it was good to have an update on the research project that the RFU has commissioned from Leeds Beckett University. This report looking at adolescent sportsmen is due to report in 2016. Interestingly it’s stated to look at sportsmen not women and let’s hope that it does look at both.
So what do the numbers say? With 719 tests it’s the most tests that have been carried out over the 5 seasons that this report covers. These are split into 614 urine and 105 blood tests. This is an increase of 49 urine tests on last year and also the most over the 5 year period. However it’s a drop of 39 blood tests and the second lowest over the 5 year period. There is no explanation for these changes.
If we look at who was tested, 135 were at international level, 191 at Aviva Premiership/European Rugby level and only 8 at A League level. The rest of the tests were Greene King IPA Championship level and below. Clearly with only 8 tests at A League level there is little to no chance of getting tested after one of those games. Also let’s put the 191 Aviva Premiership tests into context. 577 players turned out in the Premiership in 2015, it’s not an apples to apples comparison as that’s during a calendar year and the report is for a season. Even so on the surface of it only about half of Aviva Premiership players were tested. It will be higher than that as the 577 includes International and Academy players who would be included in other tests. Still it would appear that a player can expect to only get tested once a year unless targeted for suspicious activity. That’s not very frequent.
With those tests 3 players were sanctioned fro A League level down. This is a drop from 10 in 2013-2014 season and let’s hope the education is working.
RFU Illicit Drugs Program
The Illicit Drugs Program looks “to balance player health and welfare with the need to protect the image and reputation of the game”. This is about health and reputation not performance enhancing. Again there is an education program and in this case a support program for those caught. So far no one who has been caught over the 5 years that this program has been running has found to be a regular user.
There were 2 violations out of 445 tests that were a mixture of hair and urine. The hair tests can detect use up to 7 months ago so there is a much longer coverage than urine or blood tests. When you consider that 8.8% of adults have admitted to taking illicit drugs in the last year then 2 out of 445 is a very good percentage.
The other interesting numbers are that 66% of Aviva Premiership players were tested at least once. Finally 445 is down from 481 from the previous season and is the second fewest number of tests done over the 5 seasons that the program has been running. There is no explanation of this reduction but having an unto 7 months window and a fair chance of being tested is a good deterrent. We also need to remember that this is above and beyond the Anti-Doping testing.
In summary it’s good that the RFU is transparent about Anti-Doping but there are some issues still out there:
- It appears Aviva Premiership players don’t get tested very often, i.e. about once a year. I’ve heard cyclists and tennis players talk about being tested multiple times a year for example.
- It’s not clear why the number of tests goes up and down and the same with the split between different types of test.
Looking at athletics, the only way to catch dopers, as well as having an honest governing body, is multiple out of competition blood tests creating a blood passport. As Rugby is light-years off this, I can only conclude the RFU really isn’t interested in catching dopers, just doing enough to provide a fig leaf. Anyone using this report to convince themselves that rugby doesn’t have a doping problem is delusional.
I’ve not been following the athletics doping story. In cycling however the blood doping was about endurance where as all the doping stories I have heard with rugby involve strength/size instead. So just an element of caution of transferring one sports experiences onto another. I do agree however that if you are taking blood samples then you should be looking at implementing a blood passport program.