Widespread drug tests before RWC kick off
Scrum's John Taylor - first with the news
September 24, 1999
Three hundred of the world's top rugby players will be tested for drug taking before the 1999 Rugby World Cup Kicks-off a week today. As soon as the 20 countries assemble officially in the middle of next week half of each squad - selected randomly - will be required to give urine samples for analysis.
It will represent the most comprehensive testing programme ever undertaken at a team event and the International Rugby Board hope it will silence those critics who claim that rugby is complacent about the whole problem of performance enhancing drugs being used by players.
They will be spending £130,000 on the operation which will be run in Britain by Sport UK headed up by Michelle Veroukin, who has been leading the fight against drugs in British sport for more than a decade. 'We considered testing every single player before they played in the tournament but there is the practical problem of processing the samples in time,' says Mike Anderson, the Doping Control Administrator for Rugby World Cup 1999.
After the initial tests two players will be selected at random from each side in every match and will be required to give samples as soon as possible after the final whistle. Team managers will make the draw but will not know the identities of the players they have chosen and as soon as the players leave the field they will be informed and then chaperoned by a member of the testing team until the process has been completed. Results will be known before the country concerned plays its next match.
It represents a major shift in stance in a sport which refused to believe there might be a problem when it was still quasi-amateur. Although anabolic steroids and amphetamines were being used by athletes who needed explosive power and were rife in American Football, a game with many similarities to rugby, the authorities refused to believe the worst.
It was only when an anonymous British player (he was never asked to explain himself) enquired whether there would be testing before declining to play in a hastily arranged match between France and the British Lions in 1989 that alarm bells began to ring.
During isolation drug taking in South Africa was widespread but they were the first country to introduce a comprehensive out of competition testing programme. In Britain there was virtually no chance of being caught because the only testing took place at international matches and the cheats, who had taken their course of steroids in the close season, were clear.
Foreign players who have joined English clubs have expressed their surprise at the lack of testing in the Allied Dunbar Premiership - lack of money has always been the excuse - and this will be the biggest number of rugby players ever tested at one time.
Critics will rightly point out that sustained all year round testing is the only real way to tackle the problem - that is the only way Irish swimmer Michelle de Bruin was eventually caught - but Rugby World Cup have at least demonstrated that they are doing all within their power to fight the problem.