Tuesday 27 June 2017

Neil Francis: Patrick Tuipulotu case will have serious repercussions

Patrick Tuipulotu failed an initial drugs test
Patrick Tuipulotu failed an initial drugs test
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Rebecca Loos? Oh yeah, she is yer wan one who, eh, David Beckham . . . She had an affair with David Beckham. Alleged affair, please. It hasn't been proven. I have always felt that Posh and Becks' allure and mystique multiplies when they simply keep their gobs shut. The zillion-dollar brand suffers when they, ahem, articulate. Let other clever people do that for them, pay them a small percentage of their turnover per annum and watch the shekels roll in.

When news of the 'alleged' affair broke the Beckham handlers went and earned their fee. This allegation was "ludicrous". They were "shocked". Shocked indeed. What type of shock? Septic? Anaphylactic? Cardiogenic? Neurogenic? Hypoglycaemic? What is so ludicrous about a world-famous, good-looking international soccer player who earns shed loads of money having an affair, or many affairs? More ludicrous if they did not have any affairs.

Shock! What, shocked that she sold her story? The fact that he got found out? Or shocked at the three months of shit coming down the line? How about an outright denial or categorical refutation? Shock!

The Patrick Tuipulotu failed drugs test is now an absolute mystery and a case that is far from over. Tuipulotu played in the second row for New Zealand in the first November Test in Chicago. Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock were unavailable. Tuipulotu, for all his undoubted promise, did not have a good game, nor did he set the world alight in the match against Italy. In the days following the game in Rome the New Zealand Rugby Union issued a statement that Tuipulotu would be returning home for "personal reasons".

For me 'personal reasons' are a family member is sick, dying or dead, or an expectant partner is due or needs help, etc. Union spokesmen are also careful to state injury or disciplinary breach when it happens. It was personal reasons. Ben Smith went home on the same plane because he was injured. Long flight home to New Zealand - fairly difficult to stonewall a team-mate for the whole flight. Smith obviously never knew because the whole squad would then have known and then the whole world would have known.

Tuipulotu had failed a drugs test and had been provisionally suspended by World Rugby. The NZRU had lied to the rugby world at large and continued to do so until Fairfax Media broke the story. Tuipulotu's handlers immediately went to work. Patrick was "shocked" about the positive test and was "working hard to identify the source of the specific substance". Soon as I saw that he was "shocked", and there was no statement to refute, I thought, 'that boy is going down'.

The NZRU can justify the reasons they lied but it just doesn't sit right. Tuipulotu does indeed have rights but this collusive withholding of the facts is unpalatable for a sport that sees itself as holding a higher moral compass. Where do legal issues, player rights and the presumption of innocence stand after a positive test?

I can't believe the story held for nine weeks. People must have suspected. We are told that it took nine weeks for the B sample to be tested. If it was me and I was innocent then I would ask for the B sample to be tested straightaway. The B sample in most drug cases is tested right away. The B sample came back negative, a one in 10,000 occurrence.

The urine sample is collected under strict protocols. Ninety millilitres is collected, capped and sealed. In one sample that I gave I signed in ink over the seal. Depending on which body you talk to, the A sample is 60 millilitres and the B is 30 millilitres - other agencies have told me it is a 50-50 split. It is quite incredible that in the same sample one phial would show a proscribed specified substance and the other would be completely clear.

It would seem that the substance found in Tuipulotu's urine wasn't a class A anabolic steroid or heavy-duty performance enhancing drug - the language used, "a specified substance", alludes to that. Either way, Tuipulotu is responsible for what is found in his body.

The issues here are quite serious. I think there is very little chance of contamination or a laboratory mix-up with someone else's samples. It really is perplexing and the New Zealand camp are insinuating that the laboratory are at fault. The integrity of the drug testing process has to be absolute. If it is found that there was human error or a mix-up, every drug cheat in history will call into question any sample analysed at the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City.

I rang the facility last week and surprisingly, I am still waiting for a call back. There is now an investigation into the entire process and this will be reported back to all the agencies involved. If WADA upholds the laboratory's findings, we still have a problem - and a discrepancy that must be accounted for. If the laboratory admits an error (unlikely) then the floodgates will open.

Whither Tuipulotu in all this? The second row's lawyers have taken the offensive on this one. If the laboratory is guilty of negligence then Tuipulotu has a strong case for damages. The player could state he was wrongfully suspended, suffered serious reputational damage, the outlay on legal fees and loss of earnings and match fees . . . Once the WADA-led investigation is concluded there will be fireworks.

If WADA find that the lab was fully compliant with the fidelity of their duties well then we have a problem.

This case has been reasonably low profile but all parties involved come out of the episode badly and depending on the outcome of the investigation the loser will have to deal with some serious consequences.

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