Friday 15 December 2017

Sinead Kissane: TUE system for professional players should also stand for 'Tell Us Everything'

Racing 92's Dan Carter Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Racing 92's Dan Carter Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

A year ago Dan Carter sat at the top table in a marquee at Twickenham Stadium and gave the media what they wanted. It was the day before the 2015 Rugby World Cup final in what would be his last game for New Zealand.

The large media presence packed into the makeshift press room were looking for quotes and stories in order to tie a ribbon around the international career of one of the best rugby players the world has ever seen.

And Carter delivered. He was asked about his hobby of collecting and wearing super-hero costumes which took up an entire closet in the spare bedroom of his home in New Zealand.

Carter could easily have fobbed off the line of questioning but he indulged us on his private pastime and said he "started a collection of pretty much every superhero costume that there is" and laughed when he answered that his favourite costume was probably The Phantom. He had the media eating out of his hand.

The following day Carter played up to that superhero status with a man of the match performance.

He scored 19 points in the win over Australia, which included a drop-goal, a penalty from halfway, a conversion kicked with his weaker right foot and he was also New Zealand's top tackler with 12 tackles as he wrote the perfect ending to his All Blacks career.

When 'L'Equipe' reported that Carter and Joe Rokocoko gave urine tests which allegedly showed "anomalies" from last season's Top 14 final, it felt like we had reached a pivotal moment because of the current climate professional sport operates in.

The French sports newspaper claimed that samples from Carter and Rokocoko showed-up "traces of corticosteroids" in testing carried out by the French Anti-Doping Agency.

A spokesman from the players' management company in New Zealand claimed the pair had been given Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) for prescribed medication for a calf injury to Carter and a knee injury to Rokocoko.

"We have been aware of the issue for a few weeks. Our understanding and assurances we've had are all the documents around TUEs were in place," Simon Porter, their agent, said.

However, this claim that Carter and Rokocoko had TUEs was contradicted in a statement issued by the players' club, Racing 92, yesterday: "All medical procedures carried out on the players cited by the media were in full respect of the national and international anti-doping rules, both on administrative and medical levels. These are treatments administered by a qualified channel, provided in response to known illnesses, several days before the Top 14 final and not requiring a TUE."

A TUE means Therapeutic Use Exemption but it should also stand for Tell Us Everything. The Fancy Bears' hacking of the World Anti-Doping Agency database, and posting of medical and TUE forms on the internet, highlighted a valid point of whether all TUEs should be made public in order to fight against any abuse of the system. As has been stated elsewhere, it should be argued that pro athletes give up some of their right to privacy on TUEs if every sport is to move towards real transparency.

If the big picture in all of this is the fight against doping and unethical use of performance-enhancing substances, an offshoot is the blurred lines of a sports person's professional and personal life.

We live in a Tell Us Everything culture. This week the current best rugby player in the world Aaron Smith felt it necessary to publicly apologise for being caught in a disabled bathroom in Christchurch airport with a woman who wasn't his partner.

Sure, I can see why he would apologise to his team-mates and coaches for breaking a code of conduct. But his tearful TV apology was utterly cringy because it felt like we were listening in on a conversation that he should be having with someone else, i.e. his girlfriend.

Some of the reaction in New Zealand to Smith's transgression, to use a Tigerism, was a projectile vomit of disgrace and disgust clashing as it does with their "better people make better All Blacks" ideal.

I don't care what Smith does in his personal life, but if a player can go on TV and talk about a personal incident like this, then where should the boundaries be about something which really matters in sport like knowledge and transparency when an athlete has a TUE?

Because the more our knowledge of the way the TUE system works, the more questions need to be answered.

We have to wait and see how this allegation against Carter and co plays out. Just like Carter himself posted on his last tweet on Twitter in relation to another topic, we'll be watching with interest.

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