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Sports scientist highlights issue rugby is facing with drugs in wake of Dyantyi case

The rugby world – and particularly South African rugby – has been rocked in recent weeks by Aphiwe Dyantyi’s failed drugs test. The Springboks winger’s A and B samples tested positive for multiple anabolic steroids and he now faces a potential four-year ban. 

This is not the first failed drugs test for a South African player in recent months, but it is undoubtedly the most high-profile, as Dyantyi was named World Rugby’s breakthrough player of the year in 2018. 

Respected sports scientist Ross Tucker has now given his thoughts on this topic on Twitter, with a lengthy thread explaining that doping is not necessarily a problem in South African rugby, but in society. 

Tucker, who is a science and research consultant for World Rugby, acknowledged that some players take banned substances inadvertently, but he added that “we should ask whether SA has a cultural/societal doping issue? The answer is clearly yes. Go to a gym and try (not even hard) to get steroids”.

He explained that doping is a problem not only throughout South Africa but also the world, so it will inevitably leak into sport and rugby is not the only one that is facing this problem. 

(Continue reading below…)

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The Science of Sport writer went on to describe the limitations of the current testing system, saying that it is largely ineffective. “Investigation and probing for whistleblowers is far better, with testing to confirm (sometimes).”

He shared the stat that 2.6 per cent of tests over the past two years have been violations in South Africa, but said that it is necessary to see these stats from around the world in order to gauge the severity of the problem.

The main fault seems to be how hard it would be to test every person in South African rugby, and even harder to test them multiple times. Tucker expanded on why this is so hard by giving an estimate of how many players would need to be tested.

He said: “If you take 391 tests in 2017/18 as an example, imagine that’s got to cover six franchises in SA (250 players?), plus each has academies (300 more?), plus provincial teams (another 300?) plus schoolboys, you’re spreading 391 tests over what? 1,200 players? 1 in 4 per year.”

There does not seem to be the resources to consistently monitor team sports, which suggests that doping may be much more widespread as there will inevitably be players that are not tested at all. Given how dispersed rugby is between national and club set-ups, it only makes the matter of testing and tracking players harder. 

One solution that Tucker put forward is a passport for body composition, which he says will be able to “track over time, muscle mass and body fat levels, and search for unusual patterns”.

Similar things are being used in sports such as cycling, which allows sustained and regular biological measurements of a competitor. 

Another suggestion is to set limits to mass and muscle mass percentages, which would inevitably deter players from taking steroids, while also having further welfare benefits. 

Ultimately, it was stressed on Twitter that information has to be released from around the world to get an insight into how South Africa compares. Steroid use is prevalent in society and while the testing system allows players to get away with it, it will still be a problem in rugby. 

WATCH: England’s Neil Back features in the opening episode of the new RugbyPass series, Rugby World Cup Memories 

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Sports scientist highlights issue rugby is facing with drugs in wake of Dyantyi case