'Awful price to pay for accidental positive'
Top GAA doctor calls for relaxation of anti-doping rules to prevent innocent players being stigmatised
The consequences of a positive drugs test are far too severe for an amateur Gaelic footballer or hurler, a leading doctor in the sport has argued.
Tadhg Crowley, respected team doctor to the Kilkenny hurlers, doesn't believe there is deliberate doping in Gaelic games and says a positive test is more likely to be "accidental."
Dr Crowley's views contrast with those of paralympian Mark Rohan, who claimed yesterday that Gaelic games is no different to any sport when it comes to doping.
The comments come as the GAA deals with its first case of a positive test since the anti-doping programme was introduced to inter-county games in 2002.
A Monaghan footballer, who was part of their inter-county squad earlier this year, failed a positive urine test in February and has already appeared before the GAA's anti-doping hearings committee.
That hearing has been adjourned until next month to allow for further analysis.
Dr Crowley feels the rules governing anti-doping could be relaxed to ensure less testing and subsequently avoid the damage to lives that can be associated with the stigma of failing a test.
"I think it would be more common that they would be taking medication that, unknown to themselves, they might be contravening the regulations," he said.
"Since it has come in only one player tested positive and was subsequently cleared. That in itself, with the amount of tests that are being carried out, shows that the sport is fairly clean I think if someone is going to test positive it is going to be an accidental issue."
Rohan however was unequivocal in his belief that a culture of dope-taking in the GAA does exist.
The former Westmeath underage footballer, who was part of Pat Flanagan's backroom team in the county in 2013, said no exception can be made for the GAA.
"I strongly believe there are dopers in the GAA. The GAA is no different to any professional sport and is not exempt from cheats," he exclusively revealed on independent.ie.
"You see big companies investing in county sponsorship and that puts added pressure on players.
"It just takes one high-profile guy to get injured and say 'okay I need to get something back over the winter, I need to build up something here'.
"A lot of the top counties have access to absolutely everything and the best of facilities and personnel but sometimes sports science only goes so far and the temptation for further gains is there."
Crowley disputes this, however, and believes the motives for an amateur player, by comparison to a professional, are not strong enough to take risks.
"The GAA is applying criteria that they apply for professional sports people that gain an awful lot of professional wealth out of it," he said.
"They are applying those criteria to an amateur situation and I believe there are downfalls to this: one, the person has a job outside of the sport that I think could be put at risk; and secondly they are playing an amateur sport which is based hugely on the parish and club and the home and henceforth will forever be known as drug cheats.
"I think that is awful price to pay for something that I believe would be accidental,.
"On the international stage when you are talking about performance enhancing substances, that's not accidental. But I don't see it as being prevalent in GAA."
Dr Crowley believes younger players, new to a squad, are much more at risk, because they are not used to the culture of strict monitoring of what they consume.
"The players have common sense enough to realise that there is a line that they don't need to cross but the problem is that the line can get blurred and there are medications out there that they could be on that could be banned.
"In a lot of panels players come and go, there is a lot of fluidity there. They are brought in for training sessions where they might be tested but they might not have spoken to any medical personnel about medications.
"It's fine when you are dealing with guys who are 28 or 29 and they realise that but in a lot of cases, coming from minor or U-21 level just playing the game they always played since they were five. All of a sudden there are a lot of rules on exercise and diet."
Dr Crowley feels the GAA really need to look at the impact a positive test can have on the life of a player.
"The education is there but it is all about context and perspective. It doesn't become an issue until it happens to you. It's not part of their normal every-day existence. They have a life completely outside their sport even though they are training to a very professional level.
"For a professional athlete, drug testing is part of their life, this is their full-time job basically. Very different circumstances.
On top of that the penalties have more severe consequences. In international sports you have bigger countries, America or Russia, so vast.
"The ethos if the GAA is slightly different: the consequences of a positive test is disastrous for a guy. The stress on someone's personal life must be overwhelming."