Why is doping so much more common in individual sports than in team sports like rugby?

BY SAM PINKHAM

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From Tyson Gay using steroids, to Lance Armstrong having his seven Tour de France titles stripped, doping cases in sport never stray too far from the front pages.

But the question still remains, why are team sports so much cleaner than individual sports such as running and cycling?

Well, that was exactly the question put to Leicester Tigers press officer Gary Sherrard, who has spent years up close and personal with some of the world’s top rugby players.

Speaking in front of sports journalism students from De Montfort University, Gary says: “I think some of the sports that have drug issues tend to be the sports where people do things on their own.

“I’m a huge cycling fan, and I’m sick of reading things about drugs and cyclists.

“With rugby being a team game, you don’t just let yourself down, you let your mates down. If you’re in a room with 23 blokes who have just had seven shades knocked out of them on the pitch, you want to know that you can rely on the bloke next to you. So the cultural side of it in rugby is massive.

“You earn your respect by putting in the hard work, you don’t do it by taking any shortcuts.”

Sherrard admits that rugby has had its problems in the past, but was adamant that rugby at the top level is highly regulated when it comes to drugs.

“The problems generally in rugby have come at a lower level where there is less testing and it’s probably easier to just go to your local gym and get into steroids.

“The amateur game has had a few players who have been caught doing that.”

But Sherrard insists that isn’t the case at a professional level.

“The top end players are educated really well. They are looked after well when it comes to training, and there are bigger penalties to pay.

“If you come into the academy at 16 years old, you’re weight training vigorously pretty much all the time, so there aren’t really any opportunities to top that up.

“Most of the players have never been in a position where they can see a shortcut. They are in a team environment, which makes it even more difficult.

Rugby was in the headlines for the wrong reasons last year, when British rugby player Daniel Spencer-Tonks was tested positive for steroids.

In an interview with the BBC, Spencer-Tonks claimed that doping was ‘hugely widespread through all levels of rugby’ and that ‘loads of people are on it’.

Despite not making a direct comment on the Spencer-Tonks case, Sherrard insists that players at Leicester Tigers are tested regularly.

“The testers pick a couple of random numbers from the team sheet, and those poor souls will be standing around for about an hour and a half after a game trying to pee in a jar. And that’s a tough task because they are so dehydrated after a game.

“There is a big focus on it, there is a lot of drug awareness education – recreational as well as performance enhancing.

He adds: “The strength and conditioning guys work very closely with rugby players. The emphasis on strength in the game is huge, but the strength comes from that gym work, recovery and nutrition.”

It’s not just rugby that has been under the spotlight for doping recently, as three Premier League sides have all released club statements denying allegations from The Sunday Times.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester City all swiftly responded to claims that they had used the services of Mark Bonar, a doctor who was secretly filmed saying that he had supplied over 500 sports men and women with performance enhancing drugs.

Leicester City said they were “extremely disappointed that The Sunday Times has published unsubstantiated allegations referring to players from clubs including Leicester City, when, on its own admission, it has insufficient evidence to support the claims.”

Clearly, the issue of doping is not just going to go away, especially when athletes competing in individual sports so often fall to the temptation of illegally improving their chances of winning.

But us fans can be confident that the World Anti-Doping Agency are doing all they can to keep performance enhancing drugs out of sport.

 

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