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World Rugby confident there's no 'systematic doping problem' in the sport

CEO Brett Gosper did admit to some concerns about ‘community’ levels of the game.

WORLD RUGBY CEO Brett Gosper has stressed the global game’s governing body is confident that there is no systematic doping culture in the sport.

South Africa international and 2018 World Rugby ‘breakthrough player of the year’ Aphiwe Dyantyi’s recent positive test for anabolic steroids has brought the topic of drugs in rugby sharply into focus again on the eve of the World Cup.

Dyantyi failed on both his A and B samples, testing positive for the banned substances metandienone, methyltestosterone, and LGD-4033.

wales-v-south-africa-autumn-international-principality-stadium Springboks wing Aphiwe Dyantyi tested positive for anabolic steroids. Source: David Davies

With several examples of doping in schoolboy rugby in South Africa in recent years too, the spotlight has very much come onto South African rugby’s relationship with illegal steroids.

Alan Quinlan, writing for the Irish Independent last week, said that “South African rugby has had a problem with doping for years, going right back to my playing days.”

The issues in South Africa have naturally raised concerns elsewhere, with the fact that Irish schoolboy rugby players are not tested for illegal substances continuing to cause serious concerns.

Sport Ireland said last year that it is waiting for the IRFU to make changes to the governance of schoolboy rugby – the union does not currently govern the provincial competitions – in order to begin carrying out drugs testing.

Una May, Sport Ireland’s head of anti-doping, said Irish schoolboy rugby is “a high-risk area.”

At the elite level in Ireland, professional rugby players are tested by Sport Ireland, the IRFU, and World Rugby – depending on their level of competition.

Indeed, rugby is now the second-most tested sport in Ireland behind only cycling, while the rugby is top of the list when it comes to Therapeutic Use Exemptions [TUEs], which allow players to take prohibited substances for medical reasons.

But it’s South African rugby that has come under the most intense glare again in recent times after Dyantyi’s positive test.

A photograph of a group of Springboks players posing topless that circulated on social media last week drew accusations, with many supporters questioning how they could achieve such results. 

brett-gosper-chief-executive-world-rugby World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

But speaking at the official opening press conference of the World Cup in Tokyo today, World Rugby CEO Gosper underlined the body’s belief that there is no systematic culture of doping in professional rugby, despite the ever-increasing levels of strength and conditioning in the sport. 

However, Gosper did admit to concerns about lower levels of the game.

“First of all, we invest vast sums of money in a very meticulous drug-testing programme in terms of testing via passports,” said Gosper.

“We’ve been testing the players at this World Cup for the last four years and haven’t stopped, mainly out-of-competition, where you’re more likely to catch offenders. 

“Our belief is that we do not have a systematic or institutional doping problem at the elite level of rugby.

“We’ve seen some evidence in the community, reflecting community desires to be looking good and fit and all the rest of it – not necessarily a rugby thing.

“But at the elite level, we’re not seeing that issue. We still believe rugby is a sport for all shapes and sizes, though they’re more fit shapes and sizes than back in the day.

“We have also generated some pretty innovative law changes around player welfare designed to open up some space in the game, to take some of the brute strength elements out of it to try and progress in those areas. We’ll see how those trials go.

“Short answer, in the elite game there are exceptional findings occasionally but no systemic problem. We’re very confident in our drug-testing programme.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo

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