Sources: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/sport1/hi/rugby_union/my_club/bath/8093596.stm http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/rugby_union/article6737649.ece http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/8174825.stm
Following several doping related incidents 2009 seems to be a year the RFU and Bath Rugby may want to either put behind them or feel proud of.
It all started in January when it evolved that Matt Stevens had failed a drugs test and then in February was banned for 2 years. (see the following link for the full story http://sportslawnews.wordpress.com/2009/03/06/matt-stevens-starts-2yr-drug-ban/)
Then in June Michael Lipman, Alex Crockett and Andrew Higgins quit Bath following claims that they refused to take drugs tests. It was alleged that Lipman, Crockett and Higgins had taken recreational drugs whilst at an end of season party. As a result their then club Bath requested they take drugs test. The 3 players were said to have dodged these requests. However all 3 deny that they were avoiding tests and in doing so they walked out on the club, claiming “scurrilous and unsubstantiated allegations” had forced their exit.
In July Justin Harrison admitted taking cocaine and was suspended from playing or coaching for 8 months for “actions prejudicial to the interests of the game”. Harrison admitted to taking the class A drug in the toilets of a West London pub and he also confessed to shouting “Class A, it’s OK, everyone’s doing it” on a coach carrying members of the Bath academy.
Now we are in the second week of August and following the goings on in June Lipman, Crockett and Higgins have been suspended by the RFU for 9 months after being found guilty of misconduct for failing to comply with their club’s request for a drugs test. What is interesting is that all allegations that the players had taken the drugs were dropped at the start of the hearing, which then allowed the hearing to focus on whether the club’s requests were reasonable or whether the 3 players actions in quitting the club after being asked to take the tests were reasonable.
The panel chaired by Judge Jeff Blackett fully supported the club’s actions and stated, “If the players had nothing to fear from taking a drugs test then they would have taken them.” They then went on to say, “The reality of the case was that at the time when asked to take a drugs test, the players believed there was a risk of positive results.
“This was either because they knew they had ingested drugs or they had drunk so much alcohol that they could not remember whether or not they had ingested drugs. Each of the players therefore decided to play for time, keep out of contact and then hide behind legal defence.”
Richard Mallett, solicitor acting on behalf of Lipman, Crockett and Higgins, said: “All three players are absolutely devastated by today’s result and that they have now been suspended from playing the game they love.” However, there is no sign of an appeal at the moment. This is possibly because everything that was stated in the panel’s summing up is true and their actions have hit home, after all nothing screams guilty more than refusing or obviously avoiding a drugs test on several occasions. The 3 players will now have a lot to do in repairing their damaged reputations.
Whilst some may feel disheartened that Rugby Union seems to be following in the footsteps of cycling, athletics, swimming etc and gaining a reputation for doping, others may see the shining light at the end of the tunnel. 2009 may be viewed as a breakthrough in tackling drugs in Rugby. Especially with premiership Rugby growing in popularity recreational drugs can no longer be ignored.
“The RFU disciplinary panel takes no pleasure in imposing its sanction as the players involved are decent young men,” the judgment added. “There is also a need for a strong deterrent in this sanction.”
The RFU supports Bath’s tough stance on what seems to be a zero tolerance for drugs, whether they be performance enhancing or purely recreational. In addressing the issues raised players will be subject to a new education programme next season whilst Bath’s head coach wants to push through a new code of conduct for all to abide by, which includes a ban on recreational drug use. Other clubs and sports should perhaps take a leaf out of Bath’s book by taking the initiative and going above and beyond that which is covered by WADA regulations to preserve the quality and reputation of the sport whilst protecting the health and welfare of its players and all those young people who look to professional sports players as role models.