Tuesday 22 October 2019

'I wasn't big enough, wasn't strong enough' - Former Ulster lock opens up on why he took steroids

Carlo Del Fava after signing for Ulster in 2007
Carlo Del Fava after signing for Ulster in 2007
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

Former Ulster lock Carlo Del Fava has spoken at length about why he took banned substances as a young player trying to break through in his homeland South Africa.

Del Fava served a two-year ban for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2002 and joined Ulster in 2007 under coach Mark McCall following a spell with Bourgoin in France.

The IRFU's drugs policy has been heavily scrutinised this week following Gerbrandt Grobler's debut for Munster last week. The South African was also banned for two years for failing a drugs test in 2014, and IRFU CEO Phillip Browne has said the Union will reassess their drugs policies going forward after a week when the pertinent questions were asked.

Speaking on Off The Ball AM this morning, Del Fava - who has campaigned against the use of drugs in rugby since his ban - explained why he chose to use banned substances and also gave insight into what it was like to be a young South African player trying to break through in a competitive environment.

"I wasn't big enough, wasn't strong enough to cope with the level of rugby I was playing then," said former Italy international Del Fava, 36.

"I was in a Super Rugby squad as a 19-year-old and you obviously have performance levels you need to meet and criteria that you need to meet and I was just nowhere near.

"A 19-year-old in a Super Rugby squad that can do two pull-ups and bench press 80kg, I was way off the mark.

"To stay up there and compete with the group you look for a way to try and short-cut that and if you end up in hot water, that's what happens."

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While much has been made of the difference in culture between Ireland and South Africa, Del Fava insists he was not part of a systematic doping programme and that any drug use was done in "isolation".

"Do you know what, I wasn't (aware of the magnitude of what he was doing). That's the scary part. I was so concentrated and so narrow minded in your focus that you lose sight of the bigger picture completely and utterly.

"It becomes such a personal thing that you don't really see the people around you that it affects. You don't see the long-term effects of it. You have that stigma forever, it never goes away.

"It wasn't a conversation I had with anybody else. It was something that I did in isolation, looking to better myself in the wrong way and I paid a big price for it.

"I am aware of others banned for taking substances but it wasn't something that was spoken openly about within the group as if it was a casual thing.

"It was a case of doing something in secret to better your performance. In your mind you are thinking this is the right thing to do to get to that level. It's a completely wrong outlook to have about it as well."


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