The RFU has insisted its anti-doping programme is robust despite admitting an Aviva Premiership player can go an entire season without being tested.
Figures for the 2016-17 season, published by the governing body this afternoon, revealed good news as 623 tests returned no violations within the professional game in England.
However, although it has emerged that while England stars are typically required to return samples eight to 12 times each campaign across club and international duty, that figure drops to as low as zero for a Premiership player.
“Some would be tested three times a season, but some would go a season without being tested,” the RFU’s anti-doping and illicit drugs programme manager Stephen Watkins said.
“If a player did go a season without being tested, we’d flag it with UK Anti-Doping to make sure we pick those players up.”
The testing programme last season comprised 623 tests within the professional game (Aviva Premiership and Greene King IPA Championship). This is at a level consistent with previous seasons. There were no anti-doping violations within the professional game in England for the 2016/17 season.
Anti-doping education seminars are compulsory for all clubs in the Aviva Premiership, Greene King IPA Championship and Tyrells Premier 15s every season. A total of 47 education workshops were completed during the season.
Sessions are also delivered to England teams every season and by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD). All England players must complete World Rugby’s ‘Keep Rugby Clean’ online education module ahead of major tournaments.
Illicit Drugs Programme
One player failed a random illicit drugs hair test last season, a decrease from the previous season when two players failed. Since the start of the programme, no player who has failed a test and completed the subsequent welfare programme has re-offended.
This, combined with the very low numbers of players failing illicit drugs tests, shows that we can be confident that the programme is effectively delivering its twin aims of protecting both the health and welfare of players, and the image and reputation of rugby as a game free of illicit drugs.
Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, said: “We take our responsibility towards anti-doping very seriously and I’m delighted to see that the report yet again has returned a clean bill of health.
“Our support for education and our support for UKAD’s testing programme ensures that we can demonstrate a clean Premiership competition and that our players are committed to a drug free culture.
“The illicit drugs programme was introduced in 2010 following concern about societal trends.
“I strongly believe that we need to continue to support a player-centred approach with counselling support for any player who fails a test but that there should be no second chance.
“This report endorses this approach with a very low number of players having returned positive tests over the years and no player having reoffended.”
Richard Bryan, Rugby Director at the Rugby Players Association, said: “The Rugby Players Association and our members are fully supportive of all efforts to ensure rugby is, and remains, a clean sport. Protecting the integrity of our game is of paramount importance and we are encouraged to see that there were no doping violations in 2016/17.
“As a sport, we must remain vigilant and ensure that robust testing and education continue to be at the forefront of our efforts.”
A total number of 119 tests were conducted in the community game. Two anti-doping rule violations have been finalised during the course of the season, and at the time of print, there is one further case that may be confirmed as an anti-doping violation.
As part of the wider RFU’s Rugby-Safe initiative, anti-doping awareness materials are available throughout the community game alongside information on good nutrition and training advice. In addition, 33 education workshops were run by the RFU.
The RFU supports a ‘Food First’ approach to nutrition and FoodforRugby.org offers rugby players expert advice on good healthy nutrition to support the demands of playing and training for rugby, alongside a busy everyday life.
The UKAD Coach Clean module is a compulsory part of the RFU Level 3 coaching awards and individuals in other support roles are encouraged to complete the online UKAD Advisor course.
Leeds Beckett University research report & community rugby anti-doping strategy
A small number of violations, coupled with other anecdotal concerns from within the game, identified that the school-aged population was a potential area of vulnerability for uninformed use of nutritional supplements and showed a potential vulnerability to future doping practices.
In 2013 Leeds Beckett University and the RFU partnered on a research project to explore the use of nutritional supplements and performance and image enhancing substances in male adolescent rugby union players in a school context.
The research investigated how young athletes compete, train and otherwise prepare for sport. The factors that influence players’ decision-making were not well known and the research has given the RFU valuable insights into why young athletes make certain choices about their diet, training and rugby lifestyles.
Three overarching insights emerged from the research:
- Nutritional supplement use is prevalent among English schoolboys. Schoolboy players report the highest susceptibility to doping among those sampled, compared with other athletes and non-athletes.
- Use of banned substances was appraised to be a serious issue in school that needs attention. A degree of willingness to try a ‘risky’ substance was also noted.
- Limited exposure to formal nutritional supplement and anti-doping education leaves schoolboys and teachers at risk from inadvertent doping.
The report concluded that in order to successfully change behaviour, an ‘over-determining’ approach was required that addressed the capability, opportunity and motivation to perform a given behaviour.
The RFU has been developing a strategy to proactively address the issues identified through the report’s insights. The group incorporated expertise from a range of external stakeholders from the education sector and both professional and community rugby.
The community game anti-doping strategy will see the RFU increase its focus on improving awareness, enhancing education and increasing testing within the community game.
Stephen Watkins RFU Anti-Doping & Illicit Drugs Programme Manager said: “We remain committed to doing all that we can to protect the integrity and values of our game. The latest findings from our joint research project with Leeds Beckett University shows a lack of awareness in age-grade players, particularly around the use of supplements, raising the risk of vulnerability to doping.
“This, and wider concerns about low awareness around doping and its impact, led us to develop a strategy for anti-doping in the community game. This will be introduced during the 2017/18 season and will see us increase our focus on improving awareness, enhancing education and increasing testing within the community game.”
Pat Myhill – Director of Operations, UK Anti-Doping said: “UKAD has a strong and positive relationship with the RFU and I commend the pro-active approach that the RFU takes to educate, detect and deter doping. In particular the recently developed strategy for community rugby builds on this approach. As we look to the future it is important that we continue to work together to deliver effective interventions and tackle doping for the benefit of our athletes and the sport as a whole.”