2011-01-29 00:00

SPRINGBOKS Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson have been cleared to make an immediate return to rugby after it was found that they were not to blame for failing a drugs test after the Test against Ireland in Dublin in November last year.

Indeed, it was fortunate that the two players were the only ones tested that night as the entire Springbok team had also unknowingly consumed a nutritional supplement that contained the prohibited substance methylhexaneamine (MHA). After they tested positive for MHA Ralepelle and Basson were suspended and sent home from the tour, but the SA Rugby Union judicial committee ruled in Cape Town yesterday that there was “no fault” on the part of the players for taking the banned stimulant.

The committee found that the Springbok team, including Ralepelle and Basson, had taken the supplement “on instructions from the conditioning coach Neels Liebel prior to the warm-up for the Test match against Ireland and again during half-time”.

“The players took the supplement well knowing that they and their team-mates had safely used the same supplement during the earlier part of the season during the Super 14 and Currie Cup competitions,” the committee found.

Ralepelle said on behalf of the two players that it is an enormous relief to have their innocence confirmed and to be able to return to rugby immediately. “Finally the facts are out there and people can see that we were not guilty and are not doping cheats. We were only doing what the large majority of professional rugby players around the world do by using a supplement,” said Ralepelle. “Bjorn and I were the unlucky ones to be tested on the day and to have had to go through the trauma of the past months. We’re both now just looking forward to playing and closing this chapter once and for all.”

The outcome was warmly welcomed by Jurie Roux, the Saru CEO.

“This verdict completely quashes any idea that either the players or the team were guilty of any attempt to cheat,” said Roux. “The banned stimulant was in a supplement given to the players in the warm-up before the Test and is a product that has been used by the Springboks before — without any adverse analytical findings — and is used by other professional and national teams in both hemispheres.

“It was manufactured in the UK and was tested at Saru’s request by one of only two laboratories in the world equipped to perform the necessary protocols in order to ensure that it complied with the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Authority (Wada).

“That the players subsequently tested positive for a banned stimulant was an enormous shock to the Springbok team, management and to Saru, and I am most sorry that the players have had to endure the stress and stigma attached to a failed dope test. Hopefully this verdict will have laid to rest any idea of any wrong doing on their part.”

As a result of the verdict, Saru have changed their approach to supplements, medical manager Clint Readhead said yesterday.

“We have always been wary of supplements, but have tried to manage the risk as the players do want to use them,” he added. “We did everything to ensure that the supplements we supplied to the players were safe. We received a certificate from the lab saying that the product met Wada specifications. As a result of these positive tests, however, we will not endorse, condone or supply supplements to any of our players as one positive test from a rogue batch is too heavy a price to pay.”

The committee, chaired by advocate Jannie Lubbe SC and completed by Dr George van Dugteren and advocate Rob Stelzner SC, said they were satisfied that there had been no intention of on behalf of the players “to enhance their sporting performance”.

The committee concluded that, in the circumstances, a reprimand was sufficient punishment as the players had already suffered embarrassment, anguish and damage to their reputations while being suspended for three months. The sanction for a positive drugs test is a two-year suspension unless certain mitigating factors can be proved.

Advocate Attie Heyns, acting for the SA Rugby Players in representing the players, successfully argued that MHA should be treated as a specified stimulant (rather than a non-specified stimulant) since its downgrading by Wada on January 1, 2011.

The distinction allows for a sanction to be reduced or eliminated under IRB regulations if a player can establish how a specified stimulant entered his body.

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