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24th Nov 2015

Doping is “off the scale” in Welsh grassroots rugby, BBC investigation reveals

Very concerning

Gareth Makim

It is a state of affairs feared by many to be prevalent in the sport, and a BBC investigation has uncovered the scale of performance-enhancing drugs in Welsh club rugby.

Rugby has traditionally had far fewer high-profile doping cases when compared with the likes of cycling or athletics, but the physical demands of the sport have led some to question how so few could be guilty of seizing an illegal advantage.

The Week In Week Out programme, due to air tonight in Wales, surveyed 100 players from grassroots rugby clubs in Wales and found that 15 were prepared to admit they had engaged in doping, with just five of the 100 claiming to have been subjected to a drug test in the previous three years.

Two Welsh club players have received bans in recent weeks, but one former player told the programme that he was shocked that more cheats were not being discovered given the scope of the problem.

The ex-player said: “It’s totally off-the-scale. I think people are probably blind to it and if the truth came out I think there would be probably a lot more players who are banned from playing.”

Seventeen Welsh rugby players from both union and league are currently serving suspensions – contributing to the fact that, despite accounting for just 5% of the population of UK, Wales is home to a third of all banned athletes in Britain.

But anti-doping expert Prof. Yannis Pitsiladis said the low level of detection gave players the confidence to engage in doping.

“They can be quite confident when they go into testing that they won’t be caught,” he said. “Because the current testing will not be able to detect those drugs, because they are no longer in the system.”

But if this is what players at the amateur level of the game are taking, it does raise questions about what is happening at the top.