The shock revelation that young Western Province lock Gerbrandt Grobler has been tested positive for a banned substance has caught the rugby fraternity offside.

By: Brenden Nel from SuperSport


After all, here is one of its brightest youngest prospects being sidelined for two years because of an utterly stupid decision to use steroids.

To be honest, we’re so far past the time that players can feign ignorance anymore that it should hang like a badge of shame on Western Province’s wall that they allowed this to happen on their watch.

Of course they will say they did not know, but the truth is that all around the country rugby folk turn a blind eye to the off-season bulking up of players from schoolboy level.

Every few years a player gets caught, a player gets banned, and we all shake our heads.

Other sports are a lot more serious about cleaning up their game. Look at the depths that cycling has plunged to, athletics has its own hall of shame for dopers.

Why should rugby be any different?

The sport has been professional now for almost 20 years, long enough to shake off the tag that it is still ill-equipped to deal with the modern plague of supplements and doping.

Rugby is meant to be a pure game; a tactical team sport where the purity is its beauty; where the talent beats the opposition because of split-second decisions that sort the superstars from the workhorses.

But such acts place a dark cloud over those who still believe in sporting purity. It makes a mockery of a sport that already has enough challenges.

Rugby is essentially a collision sport. It is getting more and more difficult for players not to need size to play the game.

Gone are those days where rugby was a game for all shapes and sizes.

But that does not mean it needs to lose its purity; to taint itself through the needle of a syringe.

In most other sports, a positive test means an outright ban. But it also means the athlete is stripped of his medals as it essentially equates to cheating.

Athletics goes even further – if one athlete in a relay team tests positive, the entire team is stripped of its medals. Why should rugby be any different?

In asking this question this week, it transpired that there isn’t any heavier sanction for the provinces involved where doping occurs.

I am by no means singling out Western Province here. They are only mentioned because Grobler is on their books and played in last year’s Currie Cup final in a hooped jersey.

But think about it. If athletics sanctions were to apply to rugby then Province would have been stripped of their Currie Cup title because of the transgression.

There is a counter argument that a team cannot be held responsible for one player’s actions. But why not? I can take you a bet that the moment SA Rugby even contemplates such a zero-tolerance policy, provinces will read the riot act.

No provincial CEO would take a chance with a player they know is using anything close to illegal if they know they can lose titles – and in addition prize money – because of the actions of one person who makes a bad decision.

At the moment SA Rugby knows there is a problem with players at schools using banned substances. But because of the way our education system works, they can do no testing of schoolboy players because they need permission from the school – and in most cases parents as the child is a minor – to do such testing.

And there are schools that willingly turn a blind eye to these things. There are parents whose rugby dreams for their children overshadow what is ultimately right and wrong.

One senior rugby official told me recently that by the time the top schoolboys get to Craven Week, where they are tested, the banned substances are already out of their system.

Rugby needs to rethink its doping policy. It needs to get tough.

At schoolboy level, if a school is caught condoning the use of banned substances, they need to be thrown out of competitions, banned from competing for a few years, and fined. The same needs to apply to provincial unions.

It is harsh, but my bet is that it will quickly stop the use of steroids, and the stakes will be too high for anyone to turn a blind eye.

If rugby had the same sanctions as some other sports, Western Province wouldn’t be Currie Cup champions right now. The Cape would be fuming and Grobler would have cost his team more than just an awkwardly-worded press release and two years on the sidelines.

Its an option worth considering if, as I said, rugby is really serious about stopping doping in its ranks.

Facebook Comments