"We continuously remind athletes that they are responsible for their own medications, what they take, what they do, how they take it, what they check, what evidence they provide that they’ve checked it – that is a constant message. We do work very hard to ensure that."
You can understand Una May’s frustration. As Director of Participation and Ethics at Sport Ireland she admits to being "very frustrated" at the one-month ban given to Munster’s James Cronin last month for a positive doping test following Munster’s Heineken Champions Cup tie with Racing 92 six months ago.
Sport Ireland expressed their initial frustration before seeing the full case file. When they saw it, and understood that WADA had been consulted by EPCR and already were onside with the decision, that frustration eased a bit.
So having gone through the fat file and come away impressed with the legwork that went into it, they concluded pretty much there was nowhere to go. Well, nowhere other than page one of the manual that warns athletes of their personal responsibilities when it comes to medication of any sort.
"The difference between one and two months and three months is not terribly significant because the most important issue here is the reputational damage to the player and the organisation with which he plays," Dr May says.
"And we’ve asked to follow up on that in order to establish if they (the IRFU and Munster) feel the need to carry out any further actions or if they have any concerns themselves. Would they look at procedures in-house - whether there’s an issue – and education is one of the matters."
We can help her there. Two weeks ago we asked Munster if they would be getting an independent review of their practises and procedures in light of this case. They responded:
"In terms of procedures, any additional safeguards that can be put in place will be reviewed by Munster Rugby and Irish Rugby, and as confirmed by Irish Rugby already, player education programmes will reflect learnings from this exceptional case."
So no chance of getting in outside help on what they describe as being "exceptional". Oddly enough their game plan in explaining this "exceptional" event might be reviewed as well. The IRFU are unable as yet to say when this meeting between themselves, Munster and Sport Ireland will take place, or what will be on the agenda.
In a world where 'controlling the controllables' is a phrase trotted out as often as 'sticking to the process', maybe the union could start with suggesting players develop some grasp on independent thought.
Yes, they live in a regimented world, but if they are expected to ask questions of each other on the field, then why not extend it to the stuff that helps them get on the same field? So any time they are being prescribed medication, perhaps ask for a layman’s guide to what it is, what will it do, and will there be side effects?
Perhaps drill into the medics that there is a routine to be followed when prescriptions are being handed out to players who may have zero interest in what they are taking, but still have responsibilities to stay clean? And that routine reaches top priority if the player finds themselves in doping control.
If such a simple regimen were in place then we would have been spared the saga that unfolded when James Cronin picked up the wrong medication, which uncannily had a relevance to his condition, and continued with it for five days seemingly unknown to anyone.
The stuff that’s less easy to control is how information around these cases is collected and conveyed. For example, Sport Ireland had no idea WADA were in the mix when they recoiled in public over the ban given to Cronin. In the written decision by Antony Davies, the independent judicial officer appointed by EPCR to review the case, the most important piece of information was buried in the line "among other things".
The most fantastic element of the Cronin story – and there are a few – was that someone else of the same name was to receive similar, but not identical, medication from the same pharmacy around the same time. What if the other James Cronin were a Trump devotee and was waiting with bated breath for a dose of hydroxychloroquine?
Having already alluded to "another client of the pharmacy" – with the identity of that person redacted – could Davies not have included in the written decision that Cronin’s legal team had produced the prescription for the other client, as well as supplementary corroboration of their existence on the planet?
GDPR breaks a lot of eggs when making an omelette, but you can’t blame it for everything that doesn’t taste right.
Una May says that one of the many reasons why Sport Ireland chose not to run the race to appeal was because of the drug involved: prednisone and prednisolone, glucocorticoids commonly prescribed with an antibiotic for a respiratory issue.
"So does it not seem a little unnecessary to pursue something for which he could have got a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) for anyway, and he wouldn’t have had his name mentioned anywhere?" she asks.
Cronin’s name would not have been mentioned anywhere if the protocol around doctors, players and prescriptions had been fit for purpose. It took a monumental cock up in a pharmacy for this car crash to happen, but the pharmacist wasn’t the only one driving a vehicle out of control.