It has been a bad week for doping in rugby. Welsh lower league player Kyle Perry became the latest to be suspended by United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD) for violating anti-doping laws. Perry, who plays for Rhydyfelin, is the 30th rugby player to receive a ban in Britain and is banned from competitive sport for four years. Rugby Union is Britain’s dirtiest sport.
At the other end of the spectrum, World Rugby’s 2018 Breakthrough Player of the Year, South Africa wing Aphiwe Dyantyi is also facing a four-year ban for doping after testing positive for multiple anabolic steroids.
After failing a test undertaken within the Springbok camp, Dyantyi pleaded his innocence, only for his B- sample to reaffirm the presence of “multiple anabolic steroids and metabolites”.
The 25 year old had a roundabout route to the top, after failing to make his school first XV he gained experience through the university system before making both his Super Rugby and international debuts last year.
These two cases show doping is present at all levels.
Preparations for the World Cup have hit a rocky patch for South Africa. Controversial (although seemingly groundless and widely denied) accusations were directed towards Eben Etzebeth this week on social media, claiming he held a homeless man at gunpoint outside a bar. Etzebeth and those in his posse were also accused of racist abuse, both he and South African rugby have repeatedly dismissed these stories.
“We have spoken to Eben and he categorically denies any physical or racial abuse on his part as has been alleged in social media,” said the official statement.
Questions must be asked about the state of South African rugby culture, though, particularly regarding Dyantyi’s doping incident. How prevalent are steroids in elite level rugby? Could he realistically have doped without his coaches, club doctors and teammates knowing?
Rugby is entering murky territory with doping, and many fear an epidemic akin to cycling prior to the Festina affair. South Africa has a particularly bad reputation. Six schoolboys came up with positive tests at the 2018 Craven Week school rugby tournament. Likewise, this summer Stade Francais’ South African lock Hendre Stassen failed a random drug test.
In England too the issue isn’t being properly tackled. Just 16 match day drug tests were carried out across an entire Premiership rugby season in 2018; one cannot help but feel that dopers must be present at all levels of the game, in all localities.
In 2016 there were 66 failures from 2,673 tests in competition, compared to 54 failures from 4,693 out-of-competition tests. These figures reek of a brewing crisis. Rugby’s battle with doping is not simply about the game’s image but its core values of fairness and respect. It cannot afford to be blasé in the face of an evident issue. There is a supplement culture that pushes players to seek extreme advantages, it cannot be allowed to fester.
Written by Joe Ronan