Doping comments labelled 'degrading' by players’ union for French rugby

Former international prop Laurent Benezech claimed that doping is rife

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The Independent Online

The players’ union for French rugby, Provale, yesterday released a statement denouncing allegations from former international prop Laurent Benezech that doping is rife in French rugby as “degrading”.

The release was prompted by comments from Benezech that Bayonne back-rower Francois Carillo’s heart condition which prompted the player’s recent retirement could be linked to the use of human growth hormone.

A statement from Provale said: "Suggesting that all rugby players today are taking human growth hormone based on anatomical observations or worse, suggesting the Francois Carillo drama is related to doping, is degrading for the one who says it and unacceptable for rugby players."

The original insinuation came from an interview that Benezech gave to the Le Monde newspaper. In it the ex-Harlequin and Top 14 champion with Racing Metro said that comments alluding to Carillo facing health risks because of his size and the strain on his body were wide of the mark, going on to say that in French rugby “we can't say that we weren't warned" about the potential for doping.

Benezech also said that the way the game has evolved over a short period of time is similar to changes seen in professional cycling during the 90s.

"We went from 20 minutes of effective action [in open play] to 30 minutes at the end of the 1990s which was the normal evolution due to the players becoming professionals," he said. “But now we're explaining, even though we're already at 40 minutes, that we can hit 50 and even 60.

"That is what happened in cycling at the end of the 1990s when logic saw us lengthening the Tour de France's stages and increasing the difficulties without it posing any problems physically to the riders."

Provale have since called for Benezech to provide proof to support his claims. "It is up to those who accuse to prove their assertions and not for sportsmen to incessantly demonstrate their good faith in the face of rumours.”

There has been increased discussion surrounding doping in rugby in France with former France scrum-half Jean-Pierre Elissalde claimed last week that he had doped during his career and that amphetamines were widely taken in the sport during the 1970s and 1980s.

Contention was also created last week by French anti-doping agency (AFLD) director of testing Francoise Lasne, who claimed rugby had returned the highest proportion of positive tests in France in 2012. However, this was found from only 588 controlled tests with the French Rugby Federation pointing to only two lengthy bans being handed out as punishment. This prompted Provale to state: "If, with two doped players, rugby is the sport most affected by doping then that is good news for sport in France."