Thursday 22 August 2019

Sport Ireland to 'target sports' after just one failed drugs test in 2018

Sport Ireland Chief Executive John Treacy. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Sport Ireland Chief Executive John Treacy. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Cathal Dennehy

Two million euro, 1,112 tests and all for just one doping case - it seems Irish sportspeople are either among the cleanest in the world or the best at evading detection.

The third option is that drug tests, to paraphrase The Verve, don't work.

At yesterday's launch of Sport Ireland's annual anti-doping review, it emerged that the sole adverse finding in 2018 came from amateur boxer Evan Metcalfe, who tested positive for cannabis derivative carboxy-THC after winning the national elite bantamweight title last February.

Metcalfe claimed he unknowingly ingested it by smoking a friend's cigarette at a house party, a four-month ban the punishment for his not-so-performance-enhancing deed.

And that, essentially, was all she wrote on the Irish anti-doping front in 2018, despite more than a thousand tests across 28 sports, just under 900 conducted out of competition. Cycling was the most tested sport with 179 tests ahead of rugby (178) athletics (164) and the GAA (139).

With just over €1m spent directly on drug tests and the remainder on education, salaries and other administrative costs, the question for Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy was whether it had been money well spent.

"You never know when you could have three or four tests that are positive and all we can do is target sports and target disciplines and be as thorough as we can," said Treacy, who stressed how Sport Ireland has stepped up its anti-doping education programmes. "We want to take it out of the equation whereby athletes are claiming lack of education when it comes to positives."

A special guest at yesterday's announcement was Beckie Scott, chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) Athlete Committee, who made global headlines last year after resigning from WADA's Compliance Review Committee after its decision to reinstate Russia following state-sponsored doping.

"I resigned because of the decision that was taken and as an athlete representative I couldn't stand by the principles it was based on," she said. "I felt it was an affront to clean sport."

Scott, an Olympic champion at cross-country skiing for her native Canada, admitted the next frontier of anti-doping lies not so much in drug tests but through investigative work.

"Testing has been largely ineffective and when we see the large-scale drug busts it's through investigations and police work. The needle has moved. Countries need to take a serious look at legislation that's going to allow police involvement to crack open these drug rings."

Modern pentathlete Arthur Lanigan O'Keeffe and canoeist Jenny Egan backed Sport Ireland's anti-doping system as one of the world's best. "I just wish it would be that way in other countries," added Egan.

There was a decrease in therapeutic use exemption (TUE) applications last year with 24 in total, while one potentially worrying development was that the most-searched product on Eirpharm - a pharmaceutical website where members of the public can check the status of specific medicines as they pertain to sport - was Kapake, a prescription painkiller that contains codeine and paracetamol.

It was searched for 1,012 times last year, with one possible reason being that many researched its contents after Brian O'Driscoll revealed that Difene and co-codamol (another name for Kapake) were often part of his pre-match routine. However, the other product mentioned by O'Driscoll (Difene) was not among the seven most-searched products.

Irish Independent

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