GAA and sports governing bodies should provide drug education

IRISH SPORTS COUNCIL chief executive John Treacy reiterated that it is the responsibility of the GAA and other national governing bodies to provide the proper education on drugs and anti-doping procedures to their members.

Many GAA players feel ill-informed about the drugs issue, nearly five years after drug testing was first introduced into Gaelic games, while a survey of athletes conducted by the council has indicated that many are unaware of the information resources at their disposal on the issue.

The Gaelic Players’ Association included the need for ongoing education and information on the anti-doping code as part of six demands forwarded to the GAA earlier this week. Treacy said the council will be appointing a new education and research officer who will work with the NGBs and relevant personnel, such as doctors attached to inter-county GAA teams.

Despite these concerns, only two Irish athletes failed drug tests in 2005, it was revealed yesterday. The two positive findings - one in rugby, the other in squash - were for the detection of cannabis, a social drug, and sanctions for these offences have already been imposed.

2005 was the first full year of the new Irish Rules for drug testing which required the establishment of a Disciplinary Committee, an Appeals Committee and a Therapeutic Use Exemption Committee.

Dr Brendan Buckley, chairman of the ISC Anti-Doping Unit, recognised the system had placed a major burden on volunteers across the sporting spectrum, but there are no plans to increase the level of testing.

In total, 38 individual sports were subjected to 962 tests, with ‘Out of Competition’ tests accounting for 59% of that figure. The ratio of positive findings compares more or less with the international ratio.

Where Ireland does differ is in the amount of testing it carries out every year. “We test Ireland at an extremely high rate,” said Dr Buckley. “Only New Zealand and ourselves are comparable per capita of the sporting population. This major endeavour is showing it’s worth. There were no high-profile findings during the year. This doesn’t mean that we were unsuccessful in finding people. Rather, we believe this demonstrates the deterrent effect of a visible anti-doping programme.”

In 2004, five of the seven positive findings were for the use of social drugs and, with both of last year’s for similar reasons, could the Irish system be considered too stringent?

“The fact that the two positive findings this year were for social drugs doesn’t make a difference,” said Dr Buckley. “These are also prohibited in sport. So, the fact that they are social drugs doesn’t exempt them.” The ISC’s survey, conducted over a three-year spell, revealed that 75% of Irish athletes do not think that there is a problem with drug-taking in Ireland. Some 88% of athletes also believe that the ISC’s programme of anti-doping has been effective in reducing drug-taking in Irish sport.

Though one finding would seem to contradict the other, perhaps the most interesting results from the survey are those related to the use of supplements, a topic which has long divided the sporting community. Just over half of the respondents claim to use supplements, which is identical to the amount three years ago. However, only 38% believe that they need to be taken in order to compete at the highest level. In 2002, exactly half thought that to be the case.

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