Springboks and Vodacom Bulls players, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson, can return to playing rugby immediately after a Judicial Committee found that there was “no fault” on the part of the players for positive tests for a banned stimulant.
Ralepelle and Basson were charged under anti-doping regulations after they tested positive for Methylhexaneamine (MHA) following the Springbok Test against Ireland in Dublin on November 6, 2010, SARU said in a statement released on Friday.
The players were provisionally suspended from all rugby activities as a result and had to return home from the tour. Basson and Ralepelle attended the hearing in Cape Town on Tuesday after their ‘B’ sample also tested positive.
“This verdict completely quashes any idea that either the players or the team were guilty of any attempt to cheat,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SARU. “No responsibility attaches to the players at all.
“The banned stimulant was in a supplement given to the players in the warm-up before the Test against Ireland and is a product that has been used by the Springboks before – without any adverse analytical findings – and is used by other professional and national teams in both hemispheres.
“It was manufactured in the UK and was tested at SARU’s request by one of only two laboratories in the world equipped to perform the necessary protocols in order to ensure that it complied with the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA).
“That the players subsequently tested positive for a banned stimulant was an enormous shock to the Springbok team, management and to SARU and I am most sorry that the players have had to endure the stress and stigma attached to a failed dope test. Hopefully this verdict will have laid to rest any idea of any wrong doing on their part.”
The sanction for a positive test is a two-year suspension for a first offence, unless certain mitigating factors can be proved. However Advocate Attie Heyns, acting for the South African Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) in representing the players, successfully argued that MHA should be treated as a specified stimulant (rather than a non-specified stimulant) since its downgrading by WADA on January 1, 2011.
The distinction allows for a sanction to be reduced or eliminated under IRB regulations if a player can establish how a specified stimulant entered his body.
Speaking on behalf of the pair, Ralepelle said that it was an enormous relief to have their innocence confirmed and to be able to return to playing once more.
“Finally the facts are out there and people can see that we were not guilty and are not doping cheats. We were only doing what the large majority of professional rugby players around the world do by using a supplement,” said Ralepelle. “Bjorn and I were the unlucky ones to be tested on the day and to have had to go through the trauma of the past two and a half months. We’re both now just looking forward to playing again and closing this chapter once and for all.”
As a result of the verdict, SARU had changed its approach to supplements, said Clint Readhead, medical manager.
“We have always been wary of supplements but have tried to manage the risk as the players do want to use them,” said Readhead.
“We did everything in our power to ensure that the supplements we supplied to the players were safe and we thought we’d put in place enough safeguards to minimise that risk. We received a certificate from the lab saying that the product met WADA specifications.
“As a result of these positive tests however we will not endorse, condone or supply supplements to any of our players as one positive test from a rogue batch is too heavy a price to pay.”
The committee was chaired by Advocate Jannie Lubbe SC and was completed by Dr George van Dugteren and Advocate Rob Stelzner SC.
In their findings the committee said: “We are also comfortably satisfied on the evidence of the players and the conditioning coach [Neels Liebel] that they had no intention to enhance their sporting performance through the use of a prohibited substance. It was clear that no member of the Springbok team, including the players themselves, was aware before the two players tested positive that the supplement contained MHA.”
The committee concluded that, in the circumstances, a reprimand was sufficient punishment.
“The players have already suffered the ignominy of being sent home early from the overseas tour, provisionally suspended for nearly three months and having their doping charges made public with the concomitant embarrassment, uncertainty, personal anguish and damage to their reputations.
“Any further punishment for the players would, however, be out of kilter with their lack of fault in the matter. The players are nevertheless strictly liable and a reprimand is accordingly the appropriate sanction in the exceptional circumstances of this case.”