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GAA acts quickly to outline its track record in doping education


Carlow footballer Ray Walker. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Carlow footballer Ray Walker. Photo: SPORTSFILE


Carlow footballer Ray Walker. Photo: SPORTSFILE

It didn't take long, following on from confirmation from Sport Ireland in a joint-statement with the GAA that Carlow player Ray Walker had accepted a four-year ban for the presence of the substance meldonium detected in his system following an out-of-competition test in February, for the GAA to come out separately and outline its recent own track record in providing education on the topic to its players.

Highlighting the training of 46 anti-doping tutors throughout the country over the last few years and laying out the number of players who have completed formal anti-doping education - in excess of 2,100 in 2019 and in excess of 2,200 so far this year - the Association was making it clear that when it comes to informing its players of the dos and don'ts associated with supplement and medicatio intake, it was on the front foot.

"While it is ultimately the responsibility of individual players to be aware of the provisions of the Irish Anti-Doping Rules, including items on the Prohibited List, the GAA, in conjunction with Sport Ireland, and with the support of the GPA and of backroom personnel involved with all of its inter-county teams, has established an extensive anti-doping education programme for inter-county players over the last number of years," it reaffirmed, noting disappointment at another failed test.

It was a strong rebuttal, even laying out the number of courses (36) undertaken by members of the Carlow football panel in 2019 and the same number again in 2020, clearly an inference of pro-activity on Carlow GAA's part in getting the message across.

In his statement, Walker, who denies any intentional wrongdoing, had claimed that from the time that he re-joined the Carlow panel in November to the time the test took place on February 18 at a team training session, he did not receive any anti-doping training or education.

The release of such detail by the GAA infers that if he didn't receive such training or education as he said in his statement, then he was in a minority among his own colleagues. Most GAA squads range between 30 and 40 players.

Perhaps there was irony that the player's claim about not receiving such education or training came through the GPA, who are key stakeholders in the education process.

But as a players' representative body, they have an obligation to provide support, and that support manifested in the dissemination of a personal statement.

Information about those anti-doping courses is circulated widely on county squad WhatsApp groups and by email.

The GPA released its own statement outlining that it has learned of the failed test on March 30 but that "the player decided to represent himself and responded directly to Sport Ireland."

Since 2018 a condition of receiving the Government grant for playing the inter-county game has been the completion of an anti-doping course by March 31.

Bringing forward that deadline to prior to the league is something the GAA and GPA may now choose to look at in light of this latest case, allowing for the fact that squads remain open during the year. Perhaps participation in games should now be dependent on such courses being completed.

Sport Ireland released the reasoned decision yesterday, confirming what the banned substance was. That decision was presented to the player on April 8, seven days after he had confirmed to them that he was waiving his right to a hearing and was accepting his ban. He had three weeks to appeal and on April 21 he exercised that by seeking a reduced ban before opting to drop the case completely.

Separately Dr Una May, Sport Ireland's director of participation and ethics who oversees the anti-doping programme told RTE it was the first time they had detected the substance in Ireland.

The index of tests, 135 in 2019, to the number of players involved at inter-county level, over 2,200, is still small, working out at a little over six per cent, but the risk attached to GAA players is also considered to be small because of the absence of financial incentives.