Sport Ireland to restart drugs tests Monday week

Sport Ireland’s anti-doping unit hope to return to the regular testing programme on Monday week but insist they have remained vigilant during the lockdown.
Sport Ireland to restart drugs tests Monday week
Sports Ireland director of ethics, Dr Una May

Sport Ireland’s anti-doping unit hope to return to the regular testing programme on Monday week but insist they have remained vigilant during the lockdown.

SI’s director of ethics and participation in sport Dr Una May confirmed the coronavirus pandemic has impacted on the normal examinations that are carried out.

However, the appointment of an investigative and intelligence officer Michael Heffernan has helped to ensure they will be able to hit the ground running when phase two of the roadmap to recovery is set to begin.

“What I would say is we’re not following our routine testing programme at the moment,” said May.

“We will return to more routine testing probably in the next phase, providing everything goes to plan.

“But now we’re only opening ourselves for receiving intelligence because we now have an investigator on our staff, which puts us in a stronger position.

“We have a former Garda investigator who works with us part-time and we have built up relationships with the Health Products Regulatory Authority and Customs if anybody is importing anything.

"They’re keeping a close eye on packages and sharing that information with us.

“His appointment is a key part to the future of anti-doping. More countries are finding more and more cases are being based on information and intelligence gathering rather than just doping control.

"It allows us to work more closely with the other enforcement agencies around the country, having an experienced and qualified person in this area.”

May acknowledges there is a possibility some athletes will have considered the lockdown as an opportunity to take performance-enhancing substances.

“We have to keep a close eye on that,” she remarked.

“We may have samples stored for players who are higher risk, we will also be looking at the biological profile tools that we have such as blood profiles.

"Whilst we might not necessarily pick up on something that somebody took during the lockdown period, we will be able to see if something unusual has changed in their natural body rhythms. That will alert us to a potential risk that we can follow up and monitor more closely.”

Earlier this week, Carlow senior football manager Turlough O’Brien criticised the GAA’s anti-doping education system in the wake of Ray Walker’s four-year ban for testing positive for melonium.

“There certainly are flaws in the whole system,” he claimed in relation to Walker who did not undergo anti-doping training having joined the panel last November before testing positive in February.

May highlighted the amount of work the GAA have done with SI in that area but acknowledged that the education structure can be improved.

“All we can do is support, encourage and provide guidance to allow the governing bodies to carry out as much education as possible. We’ve probably trained more tutors in GAA than in any other sports.

“We would be keen to ensure they do appropriate education and clearly the fact we made that a condition for the players’ grants demonstrated how important that was to us.

"It took a lot of negotiation and in that you’re looking at the situation in terms of how straightforward it is in implementing something versus the ideal world.

“We’ve tried to manage and compromise when the likely times are for people to join panels versus what the absolute deadlines would be. We are looking at strengthening some of those conditions.

"It’s something we were always worried that somebody could fall through a loophole.”

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