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New Zealand Rugby (NZR) is confident doping is not systemic in the sport but says any future breaches have the potential to “darken the image of players who have gone before them in the black jersey”.
Neil Sorensen, NZR’s general manager, said the issue could be “incredibly damaging”, in a NewstalkZB interview on Saturday
He was quizzed about the impact of doping breaches following bans imposed by the union’s judicial committee to four New Zealand club players, among them former Black Fern Zoey Berry and ex-New Zealand Sevens representative Glen Robertson.
Bans of between 21 months and four years were handed to Manawatu’s best and fairest club player Rhys Pedersen, Otago Maori representative Ben Qauqau-Dodds, Berry and Robertson – with the latter two suspended for four years.
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Berry and Robertson admitted they had had received drug education while part of their national squads.
Three of the four were found guilty of buying or using clenbuterol. Qauqau-Dodds was found guilty of possession and use of metandienone, another banned substance.
Sorensen told NewstalkZB that he believed “all four of them knew it was wrong”.
In a wide-ranging interview, he said Drug Free Sport New Zealand had told NZR to expect more doping charges against Kiwi rugby players.
“It’s massively disappointing. We knew it was coming as Drug Free Sport gave us a heads up some time ago that it was coming.
“We’ve been told there are more [rugby players] to follow.”
NZR had not been told what level the players were involved in because the DFSNZ inquiries were confidential, he said.
“We are pretty confident – though I can’t say that with total belief – we are not going to be talking about Super Rugby players, All Blacks or Black Ferns.
“Then again Zoey was a Black Fern back in 2012 and the [drug] education that she received obviously didn’t get through.”
Sorensen said it could be “incredibly damaging” to New Zealand rugby’s international media image if a high profile player was involved.
“If they put a picture of Zoey in her Black Ferns uniform with a headline overseas ‘women All Black busted for doping’ it’s a terrible story.
He said more bans – “and there’s going to be to follow, unfortunately”, also “darkens the image of players who have gone before them in the black jersey”.
“You often wonder about what massive shakeups it can have on a commercial profile. When does a sponsor want to walk away or when do mums and dads stop their children playing the sport because of on field and off field performance enhancing and illicit drugs.
“It’s something in me that’s hard to measure. But, having said that, the cynic in me says we still have major sports organisations like Fifa and the Olympic sports continue by supported by huge multinational organisations.”
Sorensen told NewstalkZB that NZR would “still have to dealt with confidentiality” if a contracted employee was involved.
“I might be sitting here in a few months saying we can’t divulge the name of that person.”
NZR does not have drug testing regimes for players below Mitre 10 Cup level.
“Our concern is the 155,000 or more weekend warriors that are not in the high performance side of the game who can purchase stuff after being told by their mates that it makes them slimmer, fitter or faster. We haven’t even started educating those 155,000, that’s our challenge.”
While Sorensen was confident the New Zealand game was generally clean, he “would not be arrogant enough to say that none of our men or women are taking nothing”.
He would like to think contracted players would not be “naive enough to throw away a decent career for the sake of the loss of a few kilos or a bit more strength”.
Sorensen said NZR had “put a lot of effort” into drug testing and education.
“We have people at the Super Rugby and Mitre 10 Cup clubs who are designated drug officials… Every single substance they are given is batch tested.
“We are trying very hard in that regard… but I don’t think you could ever say never, could you?”