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Comment: GAA players must accept doping tests, in and out of competition

By Declan Bogue

Events on the field tend to take over on weekends like the last one, but it is worth a quick recap over how inter-county players have not received their grants for the 2017 season.

And when we look at the cause and effect, the waters are muddied by so many of the old 'Irish solution for an Irish problem' conundrums, it has the potential to infuriate.

Because Gaelic athletes make such a big play of being amateur. And they are, sort of, with a one-off payment for 'vouched expenses' per annum paid by Sport Ireland (the taxpayer), through the Gaelic Players Association.

Only the payment for 2017 still hasn't come yet, because Sport Ireland wish to change the conditions on drug testing of GAA players, including home testing.

Naturally, the GPA are uncomfortable with this. Chairman Seamus Hickey has said: "Many of our members are struggling financially. Hundreds of third-level students who are currently finishing their final exams have little or no source of income, as many do not have time for part-time employment.

"This issue is also serving as a significant distraction for players' preparations for the championship and needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency."

Part of their complaint has to be that the sums of money are almost inconsequential. Some of the grants are as little as £570 and the maximum that can be claimed just scrapes over £1,300 depending on going all the way to an All-Ireland final. In that light, permitting drug testers to extract blood or urine at any time in or out of competition must feel like an enormous burden.

Former Cork hurler Diarmuid O'Sullivan spelled out his frustration, stating: "I wouldn't see it as being fit or right for anti-doping tests to be carried out on these players outside of training hours.

"If they were being paid for a living to play GAA and drug testing was part of their contractual agreement, then that's fair."

Since drug testing was introduced in 2001, only three positive results have been returned.

One was when Kerry defender Aidan O'Mahony was found to have a level of salbutamol in his system registered at 1,977ng/ml, almost twice the 1,000ng/ml threshold permitted for users of asthma inhalers, above which is considered performance-enhancing.

But he was granted therapeutic use exemption and did not face a ban.

Monaghan footballer Thomas Connolly and Kerry's Brendan O'Sullivan also returned positive results.

The solution is simple. Whether there is money or not, the players should be subject to the tests. As well as catching foul play, these laws exist to protect players. Self-interest can't always trump everything else.

Belfast Telegraph

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