Monday 10 December 2018

'There was knowledge of his background' - IRFU to review policy on recruitment of known drug cheats after Gerbrandt Grobler controversy

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne and Gerbrandt Grobler (inset)
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne and Gerbrandt Grobler (inset)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne says the organisation will review its policies around signing players with a history of doping in the wake of the controversy surrounding Munster’s Gerbrandt Grobler.

The South African second-row was signed by the province on a one-year deal in July, despite having served a two-year ban for using a banned anabolic steroid in 2014.

Browne confirmed that the IRFU signed off on the deal in full knowledge of the player’s past.

That’s despite a quote from the CEO in the union’s 2016/17 anti-doping report that clearly states that the IRFU have a “zero-tolerance policy to cheating within rugby”.

In the wake of a week in which Munster and the union have been questioned for their role in handing the 25-year-old a contract, he accepted that they would think twice in similar circumstances in future.

“The situation with Grobler is that there was knowledge of his background, yes,” Browne said, speaking at the confirmation that Aviva are continuing their sponsorship of Lansdowne Road until 2025.

“The IRFU and Munster operate together in terms of bringing in foreign players.

“With Grobler, he was a young man in a very different rugby environment and he made a poor decision. He's been punished for that poor decision.

“Having said that, Everyone deserves a chance. Can any of you look in the mirror and say, 'I've never made a poor decision in my life before?'. And the answer is probably not.

“We're all guilty of making poor decisions.

“I think 20/20 vision, when you look at it, would we consider how we would deal with a similar situation in the future, the answer is yes.

“I think we probably need to consider how we would deal with something in a similar set of circumstances in the future.

“I think it's something that it's self-evident that's something that we do need to do.”

Asked if another convicted doper could be brought into Irish rugby, Browne dismissed it as a “nonsense question”.

“The reality is that we will obviously consider our policies, we will consider how we deal with a a similar set of circumstances in the future,” he said, before reiterating the need to supplement indiginous talent with players from overseas.

“The fact of the matter is our real focus is on developing Irish talent and it always has been, and yes there are times in the cycle when we have difficulties in actually getting players in certain positions and at times we have to look overseas to get those players, and then there's the cachet player, where we bring a cachet player in who adds value to a provincial squad.

“So we are going to continue to have players coming in from overseas because the reality is in the short to medium term we are never going to be able to fill all our teams and don't forget we have four teams with a small playing base and our aim and ambition has always been to have at least three players in every position, 1 to 15 across the provinces who are Irish-born and capable of playing for Ireland.

“So, in answer to your question: there will continue to be foreign players brought into Ireland for a variety of reasons.

“Whether it's to make up the numbers in a certain position, whether it's to bring those cachet players who add value and we know the players, we can all name them, who have added value to what we're doing.

“I foresee that continuing. In terms of: 'are we going to bring in drug cheats' the answer is: I don't think we are.

“But in this circumstance there's a young man, who made a poor decision in an environment which is very different to the environment he's operating in now. And at this stage,he's had a pretty torrid time for the last week or 10 days.”

Browne explained his belief that the Irish rugby is a different environment to that of South Africa where Grobler was caught and banned.

“The environment is different here because we're extremely well monitored and tested by Sport Ireland,” he said.

“In fact, the first anti-doping tribunal set up in this country was an anti-doping and appeals tribunal set up by the IRFU in the late 1990s, which I set up.

“We have a strong policy in relation to things. Do we need to consider what we'd do in a similar set of circumstances should they arise in future, the answer is: yes, we should probably consider that.

“The Irish rugby environment is probably one of the most stringent environments in terms of drug testing worldwide.

“It has always been that case. We've worked really closely with Sport Ireland and over 70pc of the user pay tests that are carried out by Sport Ireland are actually for rugby.

“We have a targeted programme, we particularly target players coming up through the system so all of our provincial academy squads are targeted so we are confident that we have a really good regime in place in terms of anti-doping in Ireland.

“Furthermore, we've made an investment over the years in terms of education.

“We now have five people involved full-time in the 'Spirit' programme and four - one in each of the provinces and then Ann-Marie Hughes who co-ordinates.

“A large part of that programme is actually around supplements and anti-doping, working at schools' level, club level and obviously our professional teams are served by nutritionists and by qualified medical practitioners.

“There's no question that our players are fully aware of what's required of them, they are fully aware of the dangers and the risks to their career in relation to abuse of banned substances.

“I think it's very important that that is put out there, that that is understood. Not all of you may have read our annual report in relation to anti-doping and the evidence is all in there.

“The proof is in the eating of that particular pudding in that we have a pretty good record in terms of cleared testing and a lack of positives over the years.”

Before he addressed the doping controversy, Browne expressed his delight at keeping the Aviva Stadium deal for a further five seasons.

“It means a hell of a lot to us. We’ve had a great relationship with the Aviva over the last eight years. Obviously we have another two years of the original deal to run and then we have an extension for a further five years which was always envisaged,” he said.

“When we did the original naming rights deal it was an option that was there to extend and we’re absolutely delighted that has been extended. Aviva are a great partner. They’ve made a major contribution to the Stadium with the original sponsorship and we’re delighted to have them on board

“They do great work at grassroots level as well, both with soccer and with rugby, and we’re grateful for that support as well. So it works for them and it works for us.

“Talking to Mark Wilson, who is the global CEO earlier, and it reminded me that when we did the naming rights originally, nobody really believed it has had the traction that it has. The Aviva Stadium is the Aviva Stadium. It’s known as that and has been known that pretty much from day one, despite the traditionalists who would have preferred that it remained as Lansdowne Road.

“We’re delighted that it’s worked for them and it’s certainly worked for us, so we’re delighted to extend it and we look forward to working with them until 2025.”

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