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Testing times

Drugs failure raises more questions than answers

Phil Clarke Posted 25th June 2009 view comments

It's not often that a rugby league story makes its way into the national news on a Tuesday in June, but Gareth Hock's failure of a drugs test was aired before the latest Wimbledon results.

His positive test for cocaine could cost him the next two years of his career. Sadly, he's not the first and he probably won't be the last. Athletes across all sports have been caught with traces of cocaine in their system.

Gareth Hock in action for the Wigan Warriors

Gareth Hock in action for the Wigan Warriors

Matt Stevens, the Bath and England rugby union player was another international player to suffer a similar fate, while Reni Maitua failed a drugs test this year having once represented Australia at rugby league.

Wendell Sailor played both league and union for the Green and Golds, and has recently returned to league after sitting out two years following the failure of a drugs test for so-called recreational drugs. At 34 years of age his return to St George-Illawara is an amazing recovery - this is a man who was strutting his stuff for the Brisbane Broncos as far back as 1993.

I've often wondered if clubs ever carry out any internal tests on their players and what they'd do if they found that a player had traces of cocaine in his A and B samples. Would they fine him or sack him or send him to therapy?

Phil Clarke
Quotes of the week

Closer to home, Ryan Hudson made a successful return to play and is even the captain of Castleford Tigers after the failure of a drugs test for performance-enhancing drugs, or steroids as they are more commonly called. He was forced to miss out the 2005 and 2006 seasons and then went on to play 54 games for the Huddersfield Giants before returning to the Tigers this year.

As a former player, I am amazed that it's possible to have two years out of the game and still be able to play at the highest level, and yet the examples I've listed above prove me wrong.

There are several examples of players who are forced to miss 12 months due to serious injury. A full knee reconstruction may mean that the player misses a complete season if his injury happens in the first week of the competition. I suppose a two-year drugs ban is just double that.


Is two years enough? I'm not an expert on drugs but feel there should be a different sentence for the use of 'recreational' to that for 'performance-enhancing' drugs. In my mind it's worse to 'cheat' by taking steroids than it is to use an illegal substance which has no positive effect on performance.

In no way do I condone the use of illegal substances, but there was a time not long ago when some 'recreational' drugs were legal. There was also a time when alcohol was illegal in the US!

It strikes me that a two year ban isn't a deterrent to players. If they want to take drugs then they do, and think that they'll never get caught. There are still some people who drink and drive despite the government campaigns or sentences incurred.


I've often wondered if clubs ever carry out any internal tests on their players and what they'd do if they found that a player had traces of cocaine in his A and B samples. Would they fine him or sack him or send him to therapy? I suppose much would depend on how good the player was.

What education takes place within the game? Who delivers this? Is a club responsible for this or is it an individual responsibility? A young window cleaner or bricklayer isn't taken on a course regarding drug education, so why should a similar aged rugby player be? We don't test the postman to see if he's taking cocaine so why do we test a rugby player? Would it be just as sensible to test school teachers?

It's clear that I don't have all the answers, I don't even know all the questions, but I'll miss watching Gareth Hock play. I hope that it's a 'light bulb' moment in his life and some good comes from it. I have no sympathy for Gareth or any other player who is found to be guilty of failing a drugs test. Everybody knows the rules now and has to suffer the consequences of their actions.

It will be very interesting to see if illegal drug use amongst players goes down on the back of this news. There are some sports who take hair samples from their athletes for drug-testing purposes. This is a more advanced testing system which can show if a player has taken any illegal substances over the previous year - not just the previous week. Will it make any difference?

Comments (10)

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Julianna Newton says...

Whilst I understand what people are saying about the difference between recreational drugs and performance enhancing ones something some people are missing is that if he is tested positive for cocaine then this is a criminal matter and he has broken the law. Cocaine is illegal and as such he must be punished. I do not know what the penalty is under law for use of cocaine but it is under this that he should be punished as well as the Rugby League. If he is not then this is sending out the wrong message to the children who look up to these players. It says if you have enough fame you can get away with breaking the law. Rugby is a sport that on the whole shows all how to behave with respect for others including the opposition and the officials and yourself and the consequences if you don't. Whilst it may seem harsh it needs to be shown that on the issue of drugs Rugby shows that this is not the way to go and is something that should be avoided. For those talking of alcohol and nicotine these whilst addictive are not illegal and as such are treated differently.

Posted 22:47 26th February 2010

Adam Shaw says...

It is a shame that drugs are within sport, but athletes should set an example because they are within the public eye, and looked up to and respected. So if your local postman or teacher is taking drugs, who is going to know, or care, because there position of power is not the same as that of a professional rugby player as they aren't broadcasted to a large audience of people. I know recreational drugs decrease performance, but the principle is the reason for the ban from the game. More tests need to be made on players within regards to drug tests as players used to get tested for performance inhancing drugs, and so took a masking agent to let the drug go under detected. Now they test for the masking agent and not the performance enhancing drug, so players are just taking the performance enhancing drugs now without the masking agent, as they only test for the agent.

Posted 11:14 26th February 2010

Libby Glover says...

One thing I think we need to be careful about is helping young players avoid the temptation that their sometimes very sudden fame brings and drugs, like alcohol, are something they're going to be offered, so we should be ready to teach them how to say no. Football never used to protect and help young players learn how to avoid the pitfalls of fame (look at George Best as a prime example, partying, alcohol etc.) so we need to make sure it never happens to our young players. I do agree with Phil, though, that performance enhancing drugs should carry heavier penalties than the things idiots take at parties. Both can kill the user but we know from years of news about steroids that they can cause the user to change personality so much that they kill others too easily, so two families lives would be ruined and our lovely, safe as it can be, family activity would be tarnished for ever. Maybe the League could come up with something like an anonymoius helpline for anyone who is experimenting with drugs so that they could talk about it and get some guidance. The clubs should encourage players to get help if they need it, with maybe a short suspension and probation for users who admit things and clean their act up. If they had positive encouragement from the authorities it might stop drug use sooner as now, if they did confess, they would get a hefty ban, so if anyone is still like Gareth Hock I should think they'll be keeping their heads down.

Posted 23:57 2nd September 2009

David Lea says...

Gareth Hock is a disgrace. It amazes me how so many people think that it should be taken lighter because they are not performance enhancing. Fact it is illegal. Why should the clubs do more and what do they have to do? Maybe they should hold their hands for them. Hock is an adult who knows the difference between right and wrong. He took a risk and got caught. I support Wigan and feel let down badly and i belive that any sports man who kids look up to and get caught doing drugs of any kind should be banned for life. Maybe after they have to work for a living they will realise just how good they had it.

Posted 17:54 30th August 2009

Deano Whittle says...

I agree with the Fact if Gaz is found guilty he should be punished, but what annoys me is when the like of Ben cockayne, Leon Pryce and Stuart Reardon can beat the living daylights out of people and get off scott free, even their own clubs aren't bothered

Posted 20:13 30th June 2009

Matthew Blackwell says...

It's interesting that players caught taking recreational drugs like Hock has, are banned for two years. But players like Cockayne and Pryce who were convicted of violence (in Cockayne's case, of a truly sickening attack) face no such sanction. Which is more harmful to Rugby League and the community at large. Taking a substance that damages your own body and directly harms no-one else - or repeatedly stamping on the someone's head when they are on the floor? Hock will be out for 2 years - Cockayne (who received a suspended sentence) played on Sunday

Posted 12:53 30th June 2009

Ian Silver says...

Hi Phil, You are right, rugby league rarely gets a mention on a tuesday morning in the national press but there again rugby league rarely gets any press space anyway unless its for the sensationalism angle. With regard to Gareth Hock if he is found guilty then he must face the consequences but I feel we may be jumping the gun a little as until the b-sample result is in the player must be given the benefit of the doubt . The players all know the risks they are taking and deserve whatever punishment the Rugby League hand out. What baffles me is how a so called intelligent professional sportsman will risk losing his livelyhood and whats more important his health by taking these substances is totally beyond me. Ian

Posted 10:01 27th June 2009

Paul Melling says...

Well,he isn¿t the first and he sure won¿t be the last to get caught using banned drugs. Every professional player knows the consequences of testing positive for cocaine..yet still Mr Hock decided to use it. He deserves to get banned. I trust also that as soon as the B test result is confirmed then Wigan will sack him? Get him off the salary cap immediately i presume? I hope that no note of sympathy/empathy appears on the Wigan Warriors homepage when the news is announced. I have paid good money to help pay his wages,and although his effort and commitment has never been doubted (unlike many of Wigan¿s players), he doesn¿t deserve anything else but the sack. What a shame,what a waste and what a loss to both Wigan and Rugby League.

Posted 21:01 25th June 2009

Tony Hetherington says...

As a Wigan fan I'm saddened to hear about Gareth Hock's suspension, he has been one of our best players if not the best this season and he will be missed when he gets the 2 year ban (which inevitabley he will as I've never heard of a B Sample being different to an A sample). However, the drugs he was taking were obviously being taken 'recreationally' and were not the type to enhance his performance, i.e. have an advantage over his opposition. As Phil Clarke says if a builder was going to work, doing his job with no problems then taking drugs on a weekend, would he be banned from the building trade for 2 years? I think sometimes people miss the point that Rugby League players are people aswell who have lives outside of the sport, if they want to take drugs that is their decision it does not make them any less of a person than myself or anyone else who does not take drugs, it's just the way they have chosen to live their lives. If he was taking steroids to enhance his game, i.e. 'Cheating' to be better than the opposition I would have no gripes with him being banned for 2 years, possibly more, but he wasn't and the only reason I can think of for the RFL's '2 year ban' rule for recreational drugs is to save their 'We are a family game' image. Will Gareth be given councilling to help him with this or will he just be tossed aside for 2 years and be made to make his own way back into Super League?

Posted 20:15 25th June 2009

Micheal Finney says...

It's a really sad story that is becoming all too familiar. Most of the former players seem to think that the clubs should do more but Gareth is an adult and he alone is responsible for his actions. As a Wigan fan i'll be sorry to see him banned and I wish him all the best in his reabilitation and hopefully he will find something in his life that can replace the drugs. All the best Gareth and good luck.

Posted 16:07 25th June 2009

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