Wednesday 24 January 2018

Rugby star gets two-year ban over 'asthma drug'

Paul Melia and Ralph Riegel

RUGBY international Frankie Sheahan last night vowed to clear his name after he was handed a two-year playing ban for doping offences.

The 26-year-old Munster hooker was charged by European Rugby Cup (ERC) authorities after traces of the banned substance salbutamol were found in a test sample taken last April following Munster's defeat to Toulouse in the semi-final of the European Rugby Cup.

Sheahan protested his innocence at the time, claiming he had forgotten to properly inform authorities that he was using Ventolin, which contains salbutamol, to combat his asthma.

But yesterday, an independent judicial tribunal determined that the levels of substance found in the sample were 20 times higher than a sample taken following an earlier quarter-final match.

Salbutamol is classified by the International Olympics Committee as both a stimulant and an anabolic agent, facilitating the development of muscle mass.

Sheahan's lawyers last night described the decision to impose a ban as a "bombshell" and said they would lodge an appeal next week.

A statement from the ERC said the tribunal could not "with conscience" conclude that the player had only taken eight puffs of Ventolin to treat his asthma.

The tribunal found that the levels of salbutamol found in Sheahan's A and B samples were 1,644ng/ml and 1,764ng/ml respectively and these were admitted by the player.

Shortly after the doping charge was issued on May 31, the player was immediately sent home from Ireland's tour of Australia, Tonga and Samoa. He said he had been using Ventolin since he was a teenager and had filled out the necessary forms declaring his medication "hundreds of times", and that it was an oversight which led to this controversy.

Sheahan has been a stalwart of the Munster side in its recent Heineken Cup triumphs.

He was regarded as a certain inclusion in Ireland's World Cup panel.

His lawyer and friend Paul Derham, a former Munster hooker himself, said last night: "It's a major bombshell for us all. It has massive consequences not only for Frankie and his livelihood, but also for asthmatics everywhere.

"The tribunal accepted that it was an inadvertent omission on Frankie's part and that the form just wasn't completed correctly.

"There was absolutely no intention to deceive or otherwise. It was a simple mistake. All Frankie forgot to do was to tick a specific box on the form. We are preparing our appeal as we speak."

Sheahan's legal team are likely to base their appeal on the fact that the ERC ruling runs contrary to the medical opinion offered at the disciplinary hearing.

The IRFU said last night it would be "inappropriate" to comment on Sheahan's case considering the matter was going to appeal.

However, a brief statement said the rugby body "fully subscribed" to the anti-doping programmes of the Irish Sports Council, the International Rugby Board and the ERC, and that they were "pro-active" in this regard having carried out 103 tests last season from club to international level.

Earlier this year New Zealand prop Joe McDonnell tested positive for salbutamol in circumstances very similar to the Munster hooker, but the charge against him were dropped.

In March, French Test prop Pieter de Villiers escaped suspension despite testing positive for cocaine and ecstasy. A French tribunal found it was an out-of-competition test and so should not have included a search for stimulants.

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