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Munster prop Cronin 'bears at least some fault' for failed anti-doping test

The judicial officer said he had ‘some sympathy for the player’ but that he could have done more.

EVEN THOUGH THE independent judicial officer who investigated James Cronin’s failed anti-doping test found that it was “entirely unintentional,” there was still a recognition that the Munster man “could have done more to avoid the violation.”

Herein lies a lesson for all professional rugby players and athletes.

The judicial officer, Antony Davies, essentially underlined that Cronin and every one of his fellow pros are ultimately responsible for what they ingest.

munsters-james-cronin Cronin was handed a one-month ban. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Cronin’s one-month suspension was announced yesterday, with Davies having found that “the banned substances in the player’s sample were due to a dispensing error by the pharmacy.”

But Davies also concluded that Cronin “bears at least some fault” for the banned substances prednisolone and prednisone ending up in his system and causing him to fail a random test after Munster’s Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 last November.

According to the full written report, the player had been feeling unwell in the lead-up to the game and was examined by Munster’s team doctor, who prescribed the antibiotic Amoxicillin, which Cronin had been prescribed before.

Munster’s team doctor emailed the prescription through to the pharmacy without informing Cronin exactly what he had prescribed, and Cronin went to collect the medication at the pharmacy, which he had visited several times before.

The written decision says that Cronin was mistakenly given a different client’s medication and, bizarrely, that prescription was for the same name: ‘James Cronin,’ without any date of birth or address on the packaging.

Cronin followed the dosage instructions for the medication that had been dispensed to him, namely Germentin [a trade name for the antibiotic Amoxicillin] and also Prednosol [which contains the prohibited substance prednisolone sodium phosphate].

Having taken five Prednosol tablets on 22 November, Cronin took another four the following morning, resulting in his failed test after Munster’s game on 23 November. 

During the investigation, Cronin provided evidence to support his explanation for the positive test, including a copy of the Munster doctor’s prescription and email to the pharmacy, a statement from the pharmacy confirming their error, a copy of the pharmacy’s dispensing form to confirm the wrong medication had been given to Cronin, packaging and leaflets, and even video footage of Cronin in the pharmacy on 22 November.

james-cronin Cronin in action against Saracens this season. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

All of the above weighed heavily in Cronin’s favour, but Davies still found that the Munster man bore some responsibility.

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“The player did not ask his team doctor what specifically had been prescribed… or for a copy of the prescription,” wrote Davies, underlining that Cronin therefore had no way of knowing if he had been dispensed the correct medication at the pharmacy.

Having previously been prescribed antibiotics and taken only one set of medication, Davies stated that Cronin “ought to have at least stopped to consider why this time he was required to take two sets of medication”.

Furthermore, the written decision says that “a simple Google search of ‘prednisolone,’ the main ingredient in Prednosol, would have revealed that it is prohibited in sport at certain times.”

And here is a very important part:

“Players are responsible for what they ingest, and so must carry out their own checks to cross-check the assurances of their doctors.”

Davies had “some sympathy for the player” and said that his violation was the result of “a very serious (and unexpected) mistake by a pharmacy.”

A ban was still handed out even though “the player’s level of fault was low,” and so Davies applied a one-month period of ineligibility that will expire on 15 May 2020, well before any rugby is played again.

james-cronin Cronin says he will work to "ensure my experiences can be avoided by other athletes." Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WADA, Sport Ireland, and World Rugby have the right to appeal that decision, with each of those organisations now reviewing, as is standard procedure. 

Munster, meanwhile, say that any decision on Cronin’s part to pursue action against the pharmacy is entirely his own as this was a case involving an individual player rather than the organisation.

Davies’ feeling of sympathy towards Cronin will be shared by some, but others will feel one month is a very lenient ban given the strict liability on players to ensure they do not ingest banned substances.

“I accept that this is a strict liability offence and that even though the medication taken was due to a very serious and unexpected dispensing error, it has taught me a very valuable lesson that I hope my fellow players and any other athletes can also learn from,” said Cronin in a statement yesterday, underlining how “these past few months have been very trying for myself and my family.

“I have volunteered to participate in an educational forum to help raise awareness with other rugby union players so as to ensure that my experiences can be avoided by other athletes.”

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Murray Kinsella

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