Three Irish athletes tested positive for banned substances in 2014, confirmed the Irish Sports Council (ISC) at its Anti-Doping Annual Review this week.
Motocross rider David Coates, as well as two unnamed athletes, were found to have tested positive under the council’s detailed testing regime. This equals the number of positive tests from the 2013 report, when participants in the sports of athletics, rugby and boxing served notable suspensions.
When you consider that 1,054 tests were conducted under the council’s National Programme in 2014, the return of three positive results is relatively low.
Speaking at the review launch, Anti-Doping Committee chairman Professor Brendan Buckley admitted the number was within the expected range and pointed to strong levels of expertise within the anti-doping unit, allowing it to detect sudden changes in performance levels and target testing accordingly.
“It fluctuates. It’s going to go between nought and 10 kind of randomly. That is, I think, the kind of range at which we pick it up. A lot of it is very targeted, so we’ve a pretty good idea simply because the anti-doping unit is all sports-mad. Pretty well everybody is active, or was recently active, as a sportsperson. All the prominent people were around, and you can detect changes in performance,” Prof. Buckley remarked.
“The randomness of testing has largely gone, and you can see as well, we’ve focused very much on out-of-competition testing. It has been said that, if someone was found to be positive in competition, it’s an intelligence test. It’s just evidence of stupidity as much as evidence of doping.”
In terms of the direction that he wants the anti-doping programme to develop in the next 12 months, Corkman Buckley, who currently serves as an Honorary Clinical Professor at The School of Medicine and Health, UCC, has a very clear goal. He wants Ireland to field a team at the 2016 Olympics that is 100% clean.
“I think our focus next year, of course, is going to be really ensuring that we field an Olympic team which is, in every possible way, prepared as best your nation can prepare them. That includes being clear that they’re clean. That’s what we’ll be doing.
“We’ll do our best to make sure our athletes, that are going to represent us in a green jersey, are going to represent us in a manner in which the nation can be proud of. The great thing is, it’s a very small country. If we can get somebody past an Olympic finishing line, and on to a podium, we will know for sure that they’re clean.”
Of the many Olympic hopefuls that are hoping to board the plane for Rio next year, one of them is long-distance runner Martin Fagan. The Mullingar man tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug EPO in 2012, and was subsequently banned for two years as a result.
However, in the Zurich Marathon on April 19, he became the first Irishman to run the Olympic qualifying standard for the marathon, and now has every chance of making the summer games in Brazil.
In relation to this issue, Prof. Buckley feels that, having served his time, Fagan was entitled to return to the athletics track and represent his country in a competitive field. He also believes that being caught wasn’t the only regret that Fagan had, and that he genuinely regretted taking the substance in the first place.
“He [Fagan] puts his hands up, served his time. There is no other sentence that has been imposed on him, so he’s there as an athlete who has served a sentence, and the best of luck to him. At a very difficult time for him, and for everyone, at his positive detection, he clearly came out very strongly at the time about how much he regretted doing it.
“I think the regret was deeper than just regretting being caught. I think he regretted being in a position where he felt he had to do it. I think it’s unreasonable to expect people who have a defined length of time for a ban to be excluded simply because they’ve been convicted before.”
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