The problem, according to the Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping director Dr Una May, is not a culture of doping in Gaelic games but the widespread use of steroids in gyms where footballers and hurlers train on a daily basis.
Thomas Connolly, the Monaghan footballer suspended for two years after ingesting the anabolic steroid stanozolol, received the drugs from an unidentified work colleague.
The GAA anti-doping committee hearing accepted that Connolly unknowingly, albeit naively, doped.
“The fact there has been a doping case does not imply a systematic problem within the GAA but it does reiterate what I have always said – that no sport is completely immune from it,” May told The Irish Times.
“The world in which we live people cheat. They cheat on their taxes, they cheat on their exams. Sport is no different to the rest of society.
“Steroids, in particular, are very prevalent across our society today,” May continued. “Clearly in the gyms there is a culture of doping and when players and athletes are training in these places they are likely to become more exposed to the world of steroids.”
Less than 1,000 Irish athletes, across every sport, are tested by the Sports Council on an annual basis. On average 80 inter-county players are tested. Blood testing is due to be introduced.
The suggestion of testing club players was recently dismissed before it was even suggested when Kilkenny’s JJ Delaney erroneously presumed Connolly was caught while playing club football.
“Intercounty players, fair enough, they have access to a doctor 24/7, there is no issue with that,” said Delaney. “But for club players…I don’t know exactly what he took.”
Delaney was informed that Connolly took the same steroid that allowed Ben Johnsonrun 100 metres in 9.79 seconds at the 1988 Olympics Games.
“Is there benefits in that?”
You get bigger, stronger and faster.
“Well, sure, look, it’s an unfair advantage then.” Still, the six-time All Star added: “We have to be very careful how we treat our players. At the end of the day club players are the be all and end all. If we don’t have club players we don’t have inter county players. If we don’t have club players we don’t have GAA so that has to come into consideration.”
Budgetary constraints and a belief that GAA players do not dope are the main obstacles to testing below senior inter-county level.
The amateur argument does not stack up.
“It doesn’t at all,” said May. “It is an elite sport.
“It requires a discussion with the GAA whether it is appropriate to go down to those levels and that discussion hasn’t take place because to date we haven’t felt it was necessary. Whether this case changes that in the long term we will have a conversation with the GAA as we do annually,”
“It’s a very, very significant change to the approach and suddenly incorporate a significant number of players so there are realities and practicalities that means a decision like that won’t be taken lightly.”
The Irish Sports Council has faced as yet unbreakable levels of resistance in their attempts to introduce testing into schoolboy rugby. The IRFU does not have jurisdiction to tell the schools to comply. Testing does happen once a player graduates to representative levels from under-18 upwards.
There is also testing at club level in amateur rugby where, since 2011, there has been one positive test for a recreational drug (cannabis, three month ban) and one for the performance enhancing methylhexanaemine (12 month ban).
“I think there has been lessons learned, no question about it, across the board from the GAA through to players,” May said of the recent Connolly hearing. “It will raise awareness but I think it is important to stress the substance found in this case was the same substance that Ben Johnson was using. It’s a serious substance.
“What is important and the strong message to come out of this is that the education message needs to reach more than inter county players.
“Because regardless of what level players are playing at doping is banned. The testing may not take place at lower levels but it is banned across all levels, right down to the kids.”http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/gaelic-games/steroid-abuse-prevalent-in-irish-society-irish-sports-council-1.2263137