Just saying 'no' to drugs test leaves Penygraig in a fix

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The Independent Online

"I'm up to my eyes in alligators,'' David Moffett, the chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, said as the game in the Principality lurches from crisis to crisis. While Wales's leading players were attempting to come to terms with a year of austerity, members of a junior club face a possible blanket ban after refusing to take a drugs test.

Having averted a potential strike by the national squad over new pay and conditions, the WRU are conducting an investigation into the strange affair of the Penygraig XV.

After beating Pontypridd 30-25 in the Silver Ball Cup final at Llanharan, the Penygraig players declined, en masse, to give samples for analysis. "We're holding an inquiry,'' Moffett said. "The police are involved, as they have been throughout.'' It was following information from the South Wales Police that the WRU asked a drug monitoring unit from UK Sport to test the entire Penygraig team. "There was a blanket refusal,'' said a spokesperson for UK Sport. "The collective actions of Penygraig constitute a prima facie breach of rugby's regulations. We told them that refusal to submit to a test is deemed to be an offence. Despite that, we were unable to complete the task we had been asked to undertake and are submitting a report to the WRU.''

Nobody from Penygraig, who, in addition to the Silver Ball, won the Division Three East Championship, was available for comment. The club's chairman, Neil Roper, is a police officer. A member of the drugs squad in the Rhondda Valley, he has been transferred to other duties. "He has been moved to a temporary post pending the outcome,'' a spokeswoman for South Wales Police said. Two of the Penygraig players are also serving police officers. "We are not in possession of information that they were involved in taking drugs,'' the spokeswoman added. "However, the position regarding their role as players in not undertaking a drugs test will be a matter for the WRU.''

Moffett, a former chief executive of Sport England who took over at the WRU six months ago, said: "This is a very serious situation. The WRU received information from the police alleging that some players might be using Class A drugs, and I considered it appropriate to ask UK Sport to invite the whole of the Penygraig team to submit to formal testing procedures. I attended the fixture and witnessed at first hand the events of the night. The WRU take very seriously their obligations in ensuring that the use of illegal drugs plays no part in the game.''

Dave Francis, assistant chief constable of South Wales Police, said: "Following information about allegations of the use of performance-enhancing drugs at Penygraig we shared our concerns with the WRU, who decided to carry out testing. We are aware that Penygraig chose not to undertake those tests, and it is a matter for the WRU to determine what action, if any, they will now take.''

Class A drugs include stimulants, cocaine and marijuana. The governing body could impose a two-year ban on the club, which has prospered since taking players from Treorchy.

Meanwhile, Wales's international players have been alarmed at a performance- enhancing deal introduced by Moffett prior to their visit to New Zealand and Australia in eight days' time. In a pay-for- play proposal designed to reward success, there would be no tour fee for those who did not get a game.

If Wales lose, members of the team would receive £500 each; if they win they would collect £3,000. If they win both Tests it would rise to £7,500. If over a 12-month period players appear in 16 Tests or more they would get £20,000; if they reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup the reward is £5,000 a man, with another £5,000 for reaching the semi-finals. No payment is specified for reaching the final. The budget for the national squad is £3.1m, with £1m for the players and the balance for running costs.

"The players are paid centrally by the WRU, who want to reward success,'' a spokesman said. "People have been earning sums comparable to the most successful players in the world.''

The Wales squad are incensed at what they see as one rule for the fat cats and another for the players. Moffett and the coach, Steve Hansen, who presided over a whitewash in the recent Six Nations' Championship, have salaries in the region of £200,000, which are not performance-related.

"Whether he takes the field or not, a player who goes on tour will have put in a tremendous amount of time and effort,'' Richard Harry, acting chief executive of the players' association, said. "It is clearly unfair to expect him to do it for nothing. We are juggling with the figures and I'm reasonably confident of reaching an amicable agreement.''