Ban doubled for drug use

Rugby League
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The game is to double the penalty for taking steroids, while denying that it is a "knee-jerk reaction" to accusations in a radio programme last week.

"There will be a four-year ban," Maurice Lindsay, the Rugby League's chief executive, announced yesterday. "We want to send a message to everyone that we are vehemently opposed to drugs in sport."

The League has tried unsuccessfully to contact John Allen, the former Swinton player, over his allegation that a quarter of professional players are using the drugs, but believes that its testing procedures are adequate.

"We got a letter last week telling us that a Great Britain international was on steroids," Lindsay said. "We tested him and he was clear."

If the increased ban is a disincentive to potential cheats, then the announcement that the Super League is likely to be increased to 14 teams after its first year will be a major incentive to aspiring clubs.

Newcastle United still want to enter a team in the Super League in 1997, regardless of their new links with rugby union, and promoting two sides from the First Division, with one relegated, would maintain an even number.

Lindsay admitted to concerns over the slow sales of tickets for the Halifax Centenary World Cup next month, with under 14,000 sold for the opening match between England and Australia at Wembley.

The British Amateur Rugby League Association, which has been refused a place in the Emerging Nations' World Cup, has not responded to the League's request to postpone fixtures that day.

"If they are prepared to damage the World Cup as a protest, I think that is very unsound," Lindsay said.

He was also hit yesterday by reports that South Africa might pull out because of dissatisfaction over financial arrangements, but he insisted that they were being treated as generously as all the other sides.

St Helens have signed Karle Hammond from Widnes for pounds 85,000, while Leeds will announce "a major signing" today.