Over 40% of Irish athletes say they know a doper

Of 1003 anti-doping tests carried out by Sport Ireland last year, four resulted in rule violations. Yet, over 40% of Irish athletes surveyed by Sport Ireland claimed to personally know someone who used banned substances.

Those were the standout figures at the 2016 Irish Anti-Doping Review, presented yesterday at the National Indoor Arena in Dublin. The doping rule violations of Paralympic cyclist James Brown and motorcyclist Ross Fanning were already known about. We learned yesterday the case of Michael O’Reilly is still pending, after the boxer was sent home from Rio 2016.

And we discovered that a fourth, unnamed Irish sports person failed an in-competition test in 2016, with Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy explaining the details will be revealed soon.

Dr Una May, Sport Ireland’s director of participation and ethics, presented the headline findings of a survey of 148 high-performance athletes’ attitudes to doping in sport, with four in 10 reporting they personally knew others who had doped. That finding doesn’t appear to tally with the low rate of positive tests, but Dr May suggested the discrepancy isn’t necessarily as sinister as initially sounds.

“The important thing for us is we weren’t going to hide anything that came out of that,” she said. “We want to be very transparent. There are a couple of ways of looking at it. It’s a small world, and anyone in athletics would personally know, for example, who Steven Colvert is”, Colvert being the Irish sprinter who tested positive for EPO in June 2014 and subsequently served a two-year suspension.

“That’s one possible explanation, but it is a concern,” added May who suggested the wording of the survey may have been incorrect.

“The research is showing people will report something in people they don’t know,” added May. “They will be very strong on someone they don’t know, but would they report their friend? Would they report their team mate? They are a little more reluctant.”

Over 40% of Irish athletes say they know a doper

More than 60% of athletes tested believe Sport Ireland are fair in terms of treating athletes equally, though Dr May made the point this isn’t actually the case.

“Actually, when you think about it, it depends how they interpret the question; treating athletes equally, well we don’t. We target test and we test the ones that we think are high-risk, we don’t just go in and go two for you, two for you, two for you. What’s important for us is we will take this information, and we can do focus groups and we will delve a little deeper into this.”

Of the 1,003 tests that took place during 2016, 326 were blood tests taking place out of competition. There were 181 in-competition tests, all via urine sampling. Athletics topped the testing table with 250, followed by cycling (155), rugby (113), GAA (97) with boxing and swimming both seeing 61 tests each. Soccer had just 44 tests, a low number given testing covers both League of Ireland and international footballers. There are approx 500 senior League of Ireland players.

The report highlighted the FAI did not request any additional drug testing in 2016, whereas the IRFU commissioned 32 additional tests via Sport Ireland. Sport Ireland were also commissioned for testing by World Rugby, the RBS 6 Nations and European club rugby.

“It would be low,” explained May of soccer’s surprise figures. “We have to do the whole risk management thing, you look at the sports that are higher risk. While no one is saying there is no doping or we wouldn’t be wasting those 44 tests, what we’re saying is the risk is low and what we have to do is manage the resources that we have got. And pouring tons of testing into a sport because there’s a lot of participants isn’t necessarily the answer.”

There were 46 therapeutic use exemption (TUEs) applications in 2016, with 40 approved. There were 12 applications in rugby, with 11 approved and nine in GAA, with eight approved.


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