'Everyone knows about it but no one does anything about it'
Former Ireland No.8 and Springbok U20s star CJ Stander has addressed the issue of drug use in South African schoolboy rugby.
Stander was part of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand and represented Ireland at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, as well as winning a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2018. He retired in 2021 at the age of just 30, feeling his body was no longer up to the task.
Stander believes that pressure to gain an edge and win a contract with a professional side are the drivers behind young SA rugby players looking for a shortcut, but also suggest parents play a vital role in whether or not their children seek out an unfair advantage.
The 6’1 and then 106kg Stander was told he was ‘too small’ to make it as a back row and was advised to switch to hooker if he wanted to make it as Springbok. Stander, despite being part of a Bok training squad in 2012, headed to Ireland where he added 9kg and carved out a career that saw him earn over 50 caps for Ireland.
While rugby union is generally deemed a clean sport at an elite level, steroid use in age-grade rugby in the Rainbow Nation has become something of an open secret.
Positive tests for steroid use at Craven Week – the annual showcase of teenage rugby talent in South Africa – have become commonplace. According to the BBC, three players tested positive at the 2017 event, four in 2016, five in 2015 and three in 2014 at the prestigious event.
Speaking on the RugbyPass Offload podcast, Stander admitted that it’s a problem that South African rugby must address.
“The game is so competitive now – and I’m not saying that I think they all do it – but I’m just giving facts. The school game and rugby, in general, is so big in South Africa that everyone is looking for that edge. That’s why it happens.
“That’s where there is a gap where you could sit down with your son, sit down with your daughter, whoever plays the game and feels under pressure to perform. It’s cheating obviously and I don’t condone it. It’s something you realise at a young age, that you’re putting yourself under [more] pressure at that age when you take something illegal and try to hide it. The anxiety and the stress that someone would be going through.
“I think it is a problem and I think it is something that needs to be addressed. Everyone knows about it but no one does anything about it.
“I’m glad to see the rules were extended to four years [ban for PED use] but is four years enough?… It’s a tough one.”
“These things [performance-enhancing drugs] are easy to access. I have a daughter. It makes me scared.”
“Even if you don’t want to be a role model, you’ll be a role model for someone,” said Stander when asked about social media influencers who openly use steroids. “You have a moral compass. You need something to keep you accountable.
“Life has got too easy and the compass is all over the place.”
Glasgow back row and co-host Ryan Wilson pointed out that parents but a lot of pressure on their young children, a point Stander agreed with. “If you push someone too hard when they are a youngster, they’re just going to give up.”
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