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WRU chief Martyn Phillips: Cleaning up domestic drug problem a tough task

Published 24/11/2015

Welsh rugby has suffered in recent years from a growing drugs problem.
Welsh rugby has suffered in recent years from a growing drugs problem.

Welsh rugby union chief Martyn Phillips admits eradicating the drugs problem from the domestic game is not going to be easy.

Seventeen rugby players from Wales - 10 from union and seven from league - are currently on the UK Anti-Doping banned list, with the majority found to have traces of anabolic steroids in their systems.

UKAD figures reveal players from Wales make up 34 per cent of all sportsmen and women serving drugs bans and BBC Wales' Week In Week Out investigative programme have been told the problem is "off-the-scale".

Speaking to the programme 'Rugby: Dirty Steroid Secret?', which will be broadcast on Tuesday night, a former semi-professional player who wished to remain anonymous said: "I think people are probably blind to it and if the truth came out I think there would be probably a lot more players who are banned from playing.

"It's totally off-the-scale. Drugs made a massive difference to me as a rugby player.

"There's more and more pressure to become bigger and stronger and faster.

"Now the physical qualities are becoming more important at times than skills."

The 10 rugby union players from Wales make up the majority of the 16 players banned from the sport across the UK.

The seven from rugby league form half of the 14 players banned from that sport.

While the numbers caught are a small percentage of the thousands that play rugby and do not represent the elite levels of the game, there have been a number of alarming cases down the Welsh pyramid in recent years.

Swansea hooker Dean Colclough was handed a record eight-year ban by UKAD in February 2014 for possessing and trafficking steroids and last week Owen Morgan, who plays for big-spending SWALEC Championship leaders Merthyr, was banned for four years after testing positive for the anabolic steroid drostanolone and the stimulant benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine.

"It's a problem in society to start with," said Phillips, the Welsh Rugby Union's new chief executive.

"I wouldn't sit here and say that it's not an issue in rugby because the fact that one player getting banned is one too many as far as I'm concerned.

"So the challenge for us, not just in rugby but in sport generally, is we've got to try and get it out of the game.

"I don't think that's going to be easy.

"The fact that we've caught people suggests there's an issue.

"So my job now is to get closer to that and to make sure we just become the best we can be to try and remove the problem."

Chris Thair, chief operating officer of Wales Rugby League, was also interviewed on the BBC Wales programme and called the figures a "wake-up call".

"It's a spike in the figures compared to previous years and it's not a great situation for the sport to be in," said Thair.

"It's not just a rugby issue, it's a huge global issue for all sports, and it's a challenge for everybody and we've got to do more."

UKAD's chief executive Nicole Sapstead added: "In an ideal world we'd be testing all sports all the time but that's not a reality for any anti-doping organisation in the world.

"I think if people really want to cheat the system they'll find a way."

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