jAmie Acton couldn’t have been clearer. “You’re probably abnormal in the rugby league world if you haven’t used drugs at some point, either socially or to enhance performance,” Leigh’s former striker said earlier this year when revealing he had used drugs throughout his career. .
Rugby league is certainly not immune to drugs; to suggest otherwise would be irresponsible. But Acton’s claim that a player was “abnormal” if he hadn’t been involved with drugs raised the question of how far the game had glossed over the problem.
Does rugby league have a more entrenched drug problem than the sport ever believed? “I don’t recognize those comments from Jamie,” says Karen Moorhouse, the Rugby Football League’s director of regulation.
“We’ve spoken to current and former players who also say they don’t identify with them, but it highlights the work we’re trying to do to make sure we keep the sport clean and keep player achievement as honest as possible. possible. Those claims have not led to a flood of other admissions.”
Rugby league was the third most tested sport in the UK last year by UK Anti-Doping, with over 600 player tests carried out. Six players in the professional and amateur game are serving Ukad-imposed drug bans, including Acton, who became the first player to be suspended for a historic offense after admitting his previous substance abuse in January.
In rugby union that number is 18, while in football there are only three. That would imply that the two rugby codes have a bigger problem than other sports.
“I’m absolutely sure there is someone out there who risks their career and they do it because they feel a lack of confidence or they’re not where they want to be physically,” says former England international Kevin Brown. “But in terms of it being widespread, having played in the Super League for so long, I’d say that’s not true. They do so many tests on us that you would have to spend so much on drugs that escape the system. I have played in many clubs. I haven’t seen it. I would have heard a lot more about it.”
Brown isn’t the only former player to share that opinion.
Garreth Carvell is the director of the Rugby League Players Association, but has also played in the Super League throughout his career and also represented Great Britain. “That accusation [from Acton] it puts players like me in the spotlight, because they’re saying things like ‘everyone was doing it,’” he says.
“I was rigorously tested. I never tested positive. It was an unexpected shot to suggest it was very widespread and I’m not sure that’s the truth.”
However, despite the belief that performance-enhancing drug abuse is minimal, there is a problem that is impossible to ignore. In recent years, a number of players have tested positive for recreational drugs such as cocaine, including international players such as Rangi Chase and Zak Hardaker.
Club owners are privately aware that social drugs are a growing problem, and the EOL has intensified its educational policies in this regard. “Social drugs is absolutely a living problem, but we have a policy that starts by encouraging anyone who has a problem with recreational drugs to come to us and it will be treated as a welfare problem rather than a disciplinary one,” he says. Moorehouse. “We believe we have the tools in our arsenal to address it.”
One current international player, who did not want to be named, underscored the seriousness of the problem: “I don’t see much in the way of performance-enhancing drugs, but things like cocaine… there are a lot of players who are in and around that. weekends with his colleagues and I can appreciate that it is easy to get carried away”.
Carvell says, “I think I could guess that maybe three players throughout my career took performance-enhancing drugs, and that’s a guess.
“On the social drug side it’s different, but I think it’s a social issue that has seeped into the game. The guys live a normal social life despite their status and that kind of stuff mixes much more easily with the game because of the lives the players have.”
While policies and routine testing can minimize performance-enhancing drug abuse, social problems will be much more difficult to counter in a sport where players are frequently exposed to scenarios that include recreational drugs. “Help is available, but the most important thing is to remind these guys of the consequences,” says Carvell. “Maybe we as a union need to do more about it.”