RUGBY chiefs insist their liberal new policy on testing for recreational drugs such as cocaine is not a soft touch.
Players could escape with only a £5,000 fine and their anonymity protected if they return a positive sample from a non-matchday test.
That is compared to the automatic two-year ban, prescribed, by world anti-doping chiefs WADA, that applies to any positive test taken on a matchday.
England prop Matt Stevens is currently serving a two-year suspension after a sample he returned after a match was found to contain cocaine.
The Rugby Football Union’s new measures mean players will be tested for substances other than performance-enhancing ones on non-matchdays for the first time.
And the RFU’s head of sports medicine Dr Simon Kemp says that means they could prevent further cases like Stevens’, who admitted he was an addict for some time before he was caught.
“WADA isn’t testing for these substances out of competition so we’ve seized that opportunity,” said Kemp. “The focus of this is on the image of the game but also on rehabilitating.”
Players’ body the RPA says professionals are in favour of the changes, which they believe will be tougher, not softer, on offenders.
“We’re testing in an area where there was no testing before, so it would be difficult to argue that we’re being soft,” said a spokesperson for the RPA. “The players feel very strongly that they want to be tested, so there is concrete evidence that the game is essentially clean.”
The RFU’s new system borrows from a scheme pioneered by the Australian Football League, which has proven successful.
“If it’s an error of judgment on a night out instead of dependency, the AFL have seen that once they have been caught and treated they don’t ever err again,” Kemp added.
“This system works; the AFL has statistics to prove that. Their number of positive tests comes down year on year. We’re balancing player welfare issues with image of the game issues.”
ANTI-DOPING RULE CHANGES
•Players will now be tested for recreational substances in out-of-competition tests as well as in-competition ones
•A first positive out-of-competition test for a recreational drug will incur a £5,000 fine, but no ban, with the focus placed on helping the player, who would retain anonymity, deal with any substance problem
•A second positive out-of-competition test for a recreational substance will result in a 12-month ban and the player’s identity being made public
•Any positive in-competition test – ie carried out on a matchday – for any banned substance automatically means a two-year ban, under worldwide rules