Munster taking positives from James Cronin anti-doping ban

Munster taking positives from James Cronin anti-doping ban
Munster Rugby CEO Ian Flanagan lauded reviews into the process of dealing with the James Cronin case as “very thorough”. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Munster Rugby chief executive Ian Flanagan has said the province is viewing the anti-doping ban handed down to James Cronin as a positive in terms of highlighting the importance of individual player responsibility.

Loosehead prop Cronin, 29, completed a one-month ban on May 16, having tested positive for two banned substances, prednisolone and prednisone, following Munster’s Champions Cup pool clash at home to Racing 92 last November 23. He was not covered by a Therapeutic Use Exemption but was deemed by an independent Judicial Officer appointed by competition organisers EPCR to have committed an “unintentional anti-doping violation” as a result of having had the wrong antibiotics dispensed to him by a pharmacy.

The length of suspension which fell during rugby’s shutdown to Covid-19 was criticised by both Sport Ireland and the World Anti-Doping Agency as being too lenient, although Sport Ireland ultimately decided not to appeal the decision. 

Flanagan lauded reviews into the process of dealing with the case as “very thorough” when he faced questions during an online media call on Tuesday but added that Munster were implementing additional safeguards to prevent a repeat.

"I think we carried out a very thorough process. EPCR carried out a thorough process and subsequently Munster Rugby and the IRFU carried out a review of our processes,” Flanagan said of the Cronin case.

"Subsequently, we had an additional review meeting with Sport Ireland; with (chief executive) John Treacy and (anti-doping director) Dr Una May. And I think we believe we can always learn and improve, we've looked at additional safeguards that can be implemented.

"Ultimately, the responsibility will always fall on the player. So, it's very much around reminding players of their own duties and responsibilities in terms of taking any medications.

"I think ultimately we're happy the process reviewed the facts, that it was a comprehensive and thorough process.

We're seeing it as a positive in terms of highlighting the anti-doping processes and practices that are in place in ensuring we have a clean sport in rugby.

"It's also a reminder to all players and athletes in terms of their own responsibilities."

Flanagan said Cronin had fully taken on board the importance of individual responsibility for what medicines players ingest.

"It has been (stressful), it has impacted his career. James has received a doping ban and that will always be associated with him.

"I think the education piece, we're still working on the details with EPCR in terms of when that takes place and so on, but I think the key message is that in James' case - and it's one that will be understood by all players - is that ultimately the players have to take responsibility for what they ingest and put into their system.

"In terms of additional safeguards that we are looking to implement on the back of this, it is mainly about the verification process but also increasing the education contact with the players to reinforce that message that they have to be continuously questioning, continuously aware in this particular area.”

Munster taking positives from James Cronin anti-doping ban
Flanagan said James Cronin had fully taken on board the importance of individual responsibility for what medicines players ingest. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Flanagan also addressed the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Munster Rugby in light of IRFU chief executive Philip Browne’s assertion that revenues had fallen off a cliff and reports of the governing body calling for a 20 per cent pay cut for staff at headquarters and across the provinces.

"I think as is clear to everyone this pandemic has affected every sporting organisation right around the world. As Philip Browne has said, effectively in March rugby's income across the board fell off a cliff.

"I think we took prudent measures within Irish rugby to reduce our cost base, but the reality is that we are dealing with very significant financial challenges until such time as we return to rugby as usual which will be rugby with spectators in the stadia.

"At the moment, no one has any clarity or timeframe as to when that income-generating rugby will return.

"So, it is a challenge. I think it's a challenge shared right across Irish rugby and other sports organisations also. I don't think Munster is experiencing any financial pressure difficulty to the other provinces."

The Munster CEO, who succeeded the role’s only previous incumbent, the late Garrett Fitzgerald, last summer, added measures were being taken for the province to start recouping the losses incurred by the cancellation of four homes games, while admitting there was an over-reliance on matchday income.

It's a big part of our strategic plan, we've identified clear areas where we would look to grow the commercial revenues and more importantly diversify the revenue streams of Munster.

"I think we're overly reliant on match-day income and that probably is a common scenario at a number of other clubs.

"And, what this period has proven is that an over-reliance on matchday revenue in this time where you can't play games and get people in stadiums is extremely damaging to the revenues.

"We have to, as best we can, find other ways of generating income and growing the revenue base.

"So, it is a big strategic avenue for us and we've put a lot of time and thought into it in advance of the pandemic.

"Some of our plans may be delayed, but we're looking to move on with them even in the midst of this."

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