Anti-doping education is crucial for members, GAA told
The Gaelic Players' Association has urged the GAA to lead a comprehensive education programme on anti-doping within their membership.
From January 1, all inter-county players will be subject to blood tests as a means of detecting performance-enhancing drugs.
Spokesman Sean Potts told the Belfast Telegraph that members of their group are not entirely pleased with this development. He explained: "Our members have expressed concerns of how intrusive this is, as a means of testing.
"However, we are bound by international practice in this regard. It's very difficult to have principled objections to something that is internationally accepted as protecting the integrity of sport."
A joint statement by the Irish Sports Council and the GAA/GPA explained the reasons for the introduction of blood tests. It stated: "Blood testing will further assist in providing a level playing field for all players and provide an additional means for them to continue to demonstrate they are competing cleanly.
"Some prohibited substances and methods are more easily detected in a blood test rather than a urine test."
The Sports Council maintains that both blood and urine tests can be conducted on certain occasions. It outlines in clear detail the circumstances and procedures of the tests. Samples provided will then be transported to a World Anti-Doping Agency accredited laboratory for analysis. The sanction for refusing to provide a sample can lead to a four-year ban from sport.
Earlier this year, Thomas Connolly, who was on trial with Monaghan, tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid Stanozolol and had a four-year ban reduced to two after the GAA's anti-doping committee accepted that the violation was not intentional as per rule 10.1.3 of the anti-doping rules.
Potts insisted that drug testing is essential for the integrity of the sport. He said: "We like to think that our games are drug-free.
"We understand the pressures that people are under, we understand the reasons why people do engage in doping in other codes and other sports. To think that we could be exempt from that, living in splendid isolation, would be fanciful.
"Players need to buy into it, to understand the dangers of drug abuse in terms of performance-enhancing substances. But if something goes wrong, the finger starts to point."
When Connolly's case came to light, the GPA did not receive any calls from players concerned about what they might have been taking, with Potts explaining that the front line for such queries would have been team doctors.
However, the imposition of this new responsibility now leaves team doctors, with most of them volunteers helping out and lending their services to county teams, saddled with more responsibility, including sharing medical information with anti-doping agencies.
This is in addition to the increased scrutiny they face in the case of players having concussion, and their judgment in such cases called into question.
At any time, there are around 2,200 inter-county players, with that number swelling by another 300 during trial phases.
Potts believes that will require a lot of information evenings, with the GAA the primary body to take responsibility here.
"The GAA have a serious job here to get on the road to all squads, and the various components of management teams, county board officers, doctors, that they are all brought up to speed," he added.
"We will do our bit to make sure that the material is available to our members.
"I think the process of education would help the acceptance of blood testing. In the absence of that, you would have resistance.
"We have our job to do in terms of educating our members and we will be embarking on that now that the squads have reconvened.
"We will be sending out the relevant materials to them."