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Anti Doping high on the agenda

Rugby fans can be assured that Premiership Rugby is committed to ensure the game is free of doping, says Stephen Watkins, the RFU’s anti-doping and illicit drugs programme manager.

The RFU’s annual anti-doping report was launched on Thursday as part of the ongoing effort to tackle the use of performance enhancing substances and recreational drugs in rugby.

Working alongside the RFU and UK Anti-Doping, Premiership Rugby has committed to try and eliminate doping from the elite level of the game.  Watkins said "It’s vital that the spectators can all feel confident that the players who run out onto the pitch are not only free of performance enhancing drugs, but are also not abusing social drugs," he said.

Watkins, who has been at the centre of the RFU’s anti-doping strategy and research for four years, insists young rugby players are being properly tested and educated.

"I run a lot of education sessions with the young players, and every time I say to them making it in rugby is entirely about hard work.

"If I were them I would want to be tested as well to ensure I was a clean athlete and that others knew I was clean.

"I’d want to know it was 100 percent me getting to that level and not some synthetic substance in my system.

"By having a robust framework in place and showing that we do, people know whatever level you are playing at in the game – even if you are just a recreational player – if we find out you are doping, the consequences are serious."

The testing programme last season comprised 536 tests, taken in and out of competition, and included both targeted and random selections.

The report confirmed five positive results ranging from university to Level 1 of rugby, and one case of possession and trafficking at county level.

Six additional cases from last season are on-going and not included within the report.

Separately, 481 tests were conducted as part of the RFU's Illicit Drugs Programme, where four positive results were found.

The cases concerned are treated confidentially with a 'first strike' fine and access to assessment, rehabilitation and counselling and 84 per cent of all available players were tested at least once during the season.

Education sessions were also delivered across all Premiership Rugby clubs last season.

While Watkins admits the battle against doping in sport is an on-going fight, he stressed that the RFU is constantly working on new strategies.

"We liaise closely with the other team sports, Premiership Rugby and UKAD to try and use best practise.

"In the near future we have a new WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) code coming in from the 1st of January. So we have put in a huge amount of work to ensure all our players and support staff are fully aware of the new regulations coming into force. The two-year sanctions that have been the norm are jumping up to a four-year ban, so it’s been vital that everyone is aware of that and it will be our focus over the next few months."
 

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