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James Cronin's unintentional doping case will prove a valuable lesson to all athletes



Big error: James Cronin was dispensed medication intended for another customer

Big error: James Cronin was dispensed medication intended for another customer

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Big error: James Cronin was dispensed medication intended for another customer

The intriguing revelation that James Cronin has been banned for one month due to an unintentional anti-doping violation will alert athletes all over the island.

Even when there is no sport taking place, they will once more absorb the salutary lesson that it is always necessary to ensure that everything they consume must be in accordance with the stern authority of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

And, not only that, they will also be reminded that it is their responsibility - and nobody else's - to ensure that these rules are not broken.

The principle of strict liability was introduced by WADA in the ongoing, seemingly perpetual war on drug cheats, to obviate the inevitable escape clause that athletes always used to deploy whenever they were found guilty of offences.

Strict liability places the onus on the athlete to know what he or she is taking.

"Each athlete is strictly liable for the substances found in his or her bodily specimen, and that an anti-doping rule violation occurs whenever a prohibited substance (or its metabolites or markers) is found in bodily specimen, whether or not the athlete intentionally or unintentionally used a prohibited substance or was negligent or otherwise at fault," according to WADA.

They are allowed to appeal yesterday's judgment and, as with all cases that come across their desk, they will absorb the contents before deciding their next course of action.

Cronin has declared that it has been a very stressful five months but it may not be over for him yet as he waits to hear if WADA decide to take any further interest in his case.

Following their clash with Racing 92 last November, Cronin tested positive for prednisolone and prednisone which are banned substances under Section 9 of the 2019 WADA Prohibited List.

The player had no Therapeutic Use Exemption permitting the use of prednisolone and prednisone.

Prior to the match, Cronin had been unwell and had been prescribed antibiotics from a pharmacy that he and the Munster team doctor had regularly used; however, the pharmacy dispensed medication to him which was intended for another customer.

The judicial officer accepted evidence that the banned substances in the player's sample were due to a dispensing error by the pharmacy - later confirmed by them in a statement - and that the anti-doping violation was unintentional.

Although the judicial officer found that there was no significant fault on behalf of the player, and that there were clear and compelling mitigating factors, he determined that the player had to bear some responsibility for what was in his sample.

This is where the issue of strict liability emerges; the EPCR pointed out that the player had "no way of knowing whether or not he had been given the correct medication.

"The player had, on several previous occasions," the EPCR judgment continues, "been prescribed antibiotics and so on this occasion, when he was dispensed two sets of medication (one of which was an antibiotic, the other of which was not), he ought to have at least stopped to consider why this time he was required to take two sets of medication instead of one.

"Even though the player had not previously taken Prednesol, he did not carry out any research on the ingredients list or read the product leaflet. A simple Google search of 'prednisolone', the main ingredient in Prednesol, would have revealed that it is prohibited in sport at certain times.

"Further, the product leaflet states that 'Prednesol tablets is a steroid medicine', which should have alerted him to the potential anti-doping."

The judgment then reiterated the necessary degree of personal responsibility which is required in these matters, with regard to precedence,

"In accordance with consistent case law, players cannot rely blindly on the advice of their team doctors or other medical practitioners. Players are responsible for what they ingest, and so must carry out their own checks to cross-check the assurances of doctors."

Ignorance is not a defence which can be applied to Cronin, who is 29 and has seven years under his belt as a professional athlete, playing more than 100 times for his province and three times for the national side.

The IRFU have a strict zero policy approach to doping in rugby and they confirmed yesterday player education programmes will reflect learnings from this exceptional case.

Cronin will also seek to teach others to learn from his "valuable lesson".

Belfast Telegraph