Drugs and doping in rugby

The use of drugs or supplements which contain any of the banned substances is viewed very seriously at all levels of rugby and while the onus is on the player to make sure they know what they are taking, coaches and trainers need to be aware too.

In Practical Nutrition for Rugby, compiled by Shelley Meltzer and Cecily Fuller of the Sports Science Institute of SA, "Ignorance of the issues surrounding drugs in rugby may not be used as an excuse by players, coaches, trainers, selectors, managers, agents, team staff, officials, referees, doctors, physiotherapists, dietitians or any other persons participating in, or involved in the organisation, administration, promotion or coaching of sport – and the consequences of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) anti-doping rules apply."

They say that coaches have an "enormous influence on the attitudes and actions of their players, and therefore have a responsibility to use their influence wisely. They need to take a stand on doping and must educate themselves and their players about anti-doping regulations, as well the dangers and penalties of using banned substances".

Governing bodies and doping

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) is an independent, non-governmental organisation created through the collective initiative led by the International Olympic Committee, following the Lausanne Declaration on Doping in Sport (1999).

Wada’s purpose is to:

• protect the athlete’s right to participate in doping-free sport and thus promote health, fairness and equality for athletes worldwide;
• ensure harmonised, coordinated and effective anti-doping programmes at international and national level with regard to detection, deterrence and prevention of doping.

What is considered doping?

Doping is defined as “the presence of a prohibited substance in an athlete’s bodily specimen, or the use or evidence of the use of any substance or method that has the potential to enhance sports performance and which either poses an unnecessary risk of harm to athletes, or is otherwise contrary to the spirit of the sport”.

It is important to note that there are also other anti-doping rule violations, which include:

• Refusing or failing to be available to submit sample collection
• Failure to provide information about whereabouts and missed tests
• Tampering, or attempting to tamper with, any part of doping control
• Trafficking in any prohibited substances or prohibited method.

The responsibility of players

• Be knowledgeable of, and comply with, all applicable anti-doping policies and rules
• Be available for sample collection
• Take responsibility, in the context of anti-doping, for what is ingested and used
• Inform medical personnel of their obligation not to use prohibited substances and prohibitedmethods and take responsibility to make sure that any medical treatment received, including dietary supplements, does not violate anti-doping policies and rules.

The role of the player's support

• Be knowledgeable of, and comply with, all anti-doping policies and rules applicable to them or the athletes to whom they support;
• Co-operate with the Doping Control Programme
• Use their influence on player values and behaviour to foster anti-doping attitudes
• They need to be aware of the signs and signals that denote actual or potential steroid abuse
• Some signs to look for which may indicate doping:

  • Abnormally heavy bouts of training
  • Sudden increase in body mass and strength in an abnormally short period
  • The player is in remarkably good shape despite an undisciplined lifestyle and little interest in diet and correct training
  • Increased injury frequency, particularly in the muscular attachment points and tendons
  • The player shows a keen interest in health foods and nutritional supplements and has an extensive knowledge of the effect of various medicines and doping agents.

Prohibited substances and their side-effects

Stimulants: Examples include cocaine, amphetamines, ephedrine.

Stimulants can be found in prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as in herbal and nutritional supplements, and enable the body to perform above its fitness level for relatively long periods. However, this can lead to injury to muscle, bone and soft tissue and put the heart under strain.

Stimulants act on the central nervous system, speeding up parts of the brain and body, increasing alertness and decreasing perceived levels of fatigue. Some stimulants suppress the appetite and are used in an attempt to reduce weight.

Side effects: Headaches, dizziness, nausea, palpitations, cramps, restlessness, problems with coordination and balance, irritability, confusion, aggression, clinical depression, eating disorders, psychosis, paranoia, compulsive behaviour, addiction. Another dangerous side-effect that may occur is an extremely fast pulse rate, which can cause cardiac arrest. In very hot and humid conditions, the use of stimulants can lead to heatstroke, collapse and possible death.

Narcotics: Examples include diamorphine (Heroin), pethidine, morphine, methadone.

Narcotic analgesics are strong painkillers and can be found in both prescription and over-the-counter medications. They are used to reduce or eliminate the pain of injury or illness, or to increase the pain threshold so that the athlete can continue to compete or train. There are stringent national and international legal restrictions regarding the supply and possession of many of these drugs.

Side-effects: Loss of concentration, balance and co-ordination; sleepiness, decreased breathing rate, nausea and vomiting, constipation, restlessness, mood changes. They are highly addictive, leading to physical and psychological dependency. Long-term abuse often results in reduced mental and physical capacity. An overdose may cause coma and breathing difficulties and can result in death.

Anabolic agents: Include exogenous and endogenous anabolic androgenic steroids. Examples include androstenedione, nandrolone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) boldenone.

Anabolic androgenic steroids are a synthetic version of the male hormone testosterone, and are often used to improve sporting performance by increasing muscle size, strength and power, thereby allowing the athlete to train at a greater intensity and for longer periods. The anabolic effects can accelerate the growth of muscle and bone. The androgenic effects impact on the development of the male reproductive system and male sexual characteristics.

They cause mood-altering, chemical changes in the brain and increase aggression and competitiveness.

Side-effects: Liver disease, certain forms of cancer, kidney damage, increased risk of heart disease, hardening of the arteries, depression, paranoia, aggression, stunted growth in adolescents, musculotendonous injuries, severe acne of the face, neck and shoulders. In males, they can cause the development of breast tissue and premature baldness, atrophy of the testes, decreased sperm count, infertility, enlargement of the prostate, and prostate cancer.

Beta 2 –agonists: These are commonly used to prevent or treat asthma. While most beta-2 agonists are banned there are exceptions, which are permitted by inhalation. If required, written notification from a recognised medical practitioner should be submitted to the relevant authority.

When given systematically, beta-2 agonists may have powerful anabolic effects (increased muscle size, strength and power).

Side-effects: Palpitations, headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, anxiety, restlessness and insomnia, rapid heart rate, dilation of the peripheral blood vessels.

Diuretics and other masking agents: Examples include chlortalidone, furosamide, spironolactone, triamterene.

Diuretics are used to increase fluid loss from the body in order to decrease weight and are often used by athletes competing in sports with weight categories. They are also used in an attempt to dilute the urine so that banned drugs may not show up in a doping test.

Side-effects: dehydration, headaches, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, loss of co-ordination and balance. Severe dehydration can cause kidney and heart failure.

Masking agents: these are prohibited. They are products that have the potential to impair the excretion of prohibited substances or to conceal their presence in urine or other samples used in doping control. Masking agents include but are not limited to: diuretics, epitestosterone, hydroxyethyl starch, probenecid, plasma expanders.

The Complete Prohibited list of substances and methods is updated annually and can be viewed/ downloaded from The Saids website  or the Wada website.  

Queries: Drug-Free Info Hotline (021) 448 3888.

(Information courtesy SA Rugby Practical Nutrition for Rugby Players)

 (Health24, August 2011)

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