16 Dec 2015

Junior rugby players to be tested for drugs

10:53 am on 16 December 2015

Top-flight college rugby teams are to be tested for performance enhancing drugs, under plans being drawn up by the anti-doping agency.

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Drug Free Sport New Zealand is looking at junior rugby Photo: 123RF

Drugfree Sport NZ said junior athletes were becoming vulnerable to taking banned substances.

It said it was a trend that had been identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The organisation has been running education programmes for young players but now intends to carry out urine tests at the under 19 level.

Chief executive Graeme Steel said he hoped the overseas trend of young players being heavily implicated in doping would not take hold in New Zealand.

"There are more and more rewards for being successful in sport and athletes respond to that. This is a body beautiful culture which some young people who also happen to be sports people buy into.

"They may or may not be trying to improve their performance specifically but it all seems to tie together. What we're very keen to ensure is that the culture here in New Zealand simply won't support young athletes doing that."

Drugfree Sport NZ chief executive Graeme Steel

Drugfree Sport NZ chief executive Graeme Steel Photo: RNZ

Drugfree Sport NZ, a government entity with responsibility to implement and apply the World Anti-Doping Code in New Zealand, said professional teams were hearing the anti-doping message loud and clear, and that was why the same point needed to be made to the juniors.

"The suspicion we have is that because we have a strong presence at the highest level of the game the amount of doping there is likely to be very little.

But it's at the level below that where young athletes are trying to make their mark or conceivably the players believe that testing won't occur," said Mr Steel.

Drugfree Sport NZ was planning to talk with colleges and teams and would not impose a testing regime out of the blue. But Graeme Steel confirmed those younger players would be targeted.

"That would be on First 15 players, probably initially amongst the top schools. And so most of those player would be 17 or 18 years old at least. There might be one or two younger ones but most of them would be of that sort of age."

Mr Steel said his agency would be breaking new ground by checking younger athletes for banned drugs.

"These player are bound through rules under the Rugby Union, so we have the authority to step in and test and force the testing if we want to go down that path.

"But the better path of course is to get buy-in from the schools and from the system as a whole so that we're all working together to achieve a result rather than us just imposing it on them."

New Zealand Rugby was working with Drugfree Sport NZ to implement the testing but the sport's governing body said there was no big drug problem among young players in the code.

NZ Rugby's Manager of player services and integrity Chris Lendrum said it was a sensible step to look at any area where there could be risk.

"We are not immune from the risks in this area, just like any other sport. We have had isolated incidents in the past and you are talking about individuals making decisions for themselves - undoubtedly someone somewhere will make a bad one at some point but we've got no evidence at this point in time of any systematic mis-use."

Local case

In June this year a young rugby player from Canterbury was banned from all sport for two years for possession of a performance enhancing drug.

Finn Hart-Strawbridge pleaded guilty to possessing the prohibited substance GHRP-6, a human growth hormone precursor.

He claimed to have bought the vial online in order to have a joke with his friends.

But Drugfree Sport NZ said regardless of whether or not he intended to use the substance, the fact that he bought a prohibited drug online was at best extremely naive.

The teenager was handed a two-year-ban from the Rugby Union's Judicial Committee.

How a test is carried out

In a rugby or football game, two players from each team are likely to be tested.

It involves the collection of blood and urine samples to determine whether athletes are clean.

Samples are sent to a laboratory in Sydney to be analysed.

Drugfree Sport NZ has a staff of 11 full-time and part-time employees plus independent contractors who work in the field collecting samples and/or educating athletes.