RFU: No drug problem in the sport

The Rugby Football Union denies the sport has a recreational drugs problem after five players from Aviva Premiership clubs returned positive tests.

The results were revealed in the RFU's third anti-doping annual report and were uncovered by its illicit drugs programme, which conducts out-of-competition tests on Premiership players for cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines only.

Under the terms of the programme, which is run in addition to the WADA-approved anti-doping testing, the five players remain anonymous as they are first-time offenders.

Instead, they have received treatment and a fine of £1,000 or £5,000 depending on whether they are an academy or senior player. Players from 18-years-old upwards are exposed to testing.

It is the first time since the illicit drugs programme was introduced for the 2009-10 season that there have been violations of the policy, but the RFU's anti-doping and illicit drugs programme manager Stephen Watkins sees no reason for alarm.

"Does rugby have a drugs problem? 'No' would be my answer to that," Watkins said.

"I was surprised that we didn't get any positives in the first three years.

"I'm not concerned by this. It's a very low number and I'm encouraged by that.

"Five is not that many when you compare it across the player population (0.29 per cent).

"We take a strong stance on this - we don't want players using drugs out on a Saturday night. It's not good for the image of the game or the health of the players.

"There's absolutely no room for complacency here and I have to point out that RFU doesn't have to run the illicit drugs programme.

"We run it - and we are one of only a small number of governing bodies that do - because we think it's a good thing to do for the health of the game and the players."

An anomaly of the system is that a player testing positive for cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines under the anti-doping programme will receive a substantial ban and his case will be made public, while under the illicit drugs programme he is treated far more leniently.

Returning a positive result on a Saturday could have a vastly different outcome to returning a positive test on a Monday, with the guilty party either named and shamed or able to continue playing without the stigma of being viewed as a user of recreational drugs.

Watkins defends the anonymity of the five players, stresses there is no second chance and urged against a witchhunt to expose the quintet.

"The illicit programme is based much more on welfare and the health of the game," Watkins said.

"The reason for the anonymity is that it's viewed as a health issue. If a player fails another test 18 months after failing the first, then that will go public. You don't get a second chance.

"If you fail again, that's it. You'll be banned, fined and your name will be in the public domain.

"I hope people don't try to root around and find out who the players are because they've made a mistake, but have been treated and paid their fines."

Watkins states that in each case the drug use was an isolated incident.

"Of the players who tested positive, no-one has indicated long-term use. They have all been one-off, making serious errors of judgement," he said.

"Once they have gone through the treatment process, I take over and issue a fine. An academy player will be fined £1,000 and a senior player £5,000.

"The players who have all been fined view it as a massive fine, a huge amount to pay out in one go.

"We then target-test them and none of them have failed repeated testing."

Of the 345 tests that took place under the illicit drugs programme, 83 per cent used hair samples, which have a three to seven month detection period.

In addition to the illicit drugs programme, there were a total of 617 in and out of competition tests as part of the anti-doping programme.

All five of the positive anti-doping tests for the 2012-13 season were recorded at National League level and below and their cases have already been made public.

A Premiership player has yet to return a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.

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