South Africa duo not guilty over positive drug test

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The Independent Online

South Africa internationals Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson have been cleared to play on after a judicial hearing found they were not to blame for returning positive drug tests.

Ralepelle and Basson were charged and provisionally suspended after they tested positive for the banned stimulant Methylhexamine (MHA) following South Africa's Test against Ireland on November 6.



The Springboks launched an immediate investigation into the source of the stimulant, fearing at the time it may have been contained in supplements or sports drinks given to the whole squad.



During the hearing in Cape Town it was confirmed that MHA was contained in supplements provided to the Springboks team in the warm-up before the game in Dublin.



Ralepelle and Basson were just the unfortunate players to be tested after South Africa's 23-21 victory at the Aviva Stadium.



The three-man disciplinary panel exonerated both players of any wrongdoing and admonished the South African Rugby Union (SARU) for not having the supplements tested more comprehensively.



SARU chief executive Jurie Roux apologised to Ralepelle and Basson.



"This verdict completely quashes any idea that either the players or the team were guilty of any attempt to cheat. No responsibility attaches to the players at all," Roux said.



"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 wrongdoing on their part."



Ralepelle, speaking on behalf of both players, revealed their relief at finally being cleared to play on, with the Super 15 season starting in four weeks.

"Finally the facts are out there and people can see that we were not guilty and are not doping cheats," said the Bulls hooker.



"We were only doing what the large majority of professional rugby players around the world do by using a supplement.



"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."



The players received an official reprimand from the disciplinary panel because they are still seen as "strictly liable" for what goes into their bodies.



But the committee concluded that any further punishment would be "out of kilter with their lack of fault in the matter".



Ralepelle and Basson were facing potential two-year bans but the WADA downgraded MHA's classification in January.



There had been a number of positive tests in other sports related to the inadvertent use of the stimulant, originally designed for use as a nasal decongestant.



The judicial committee agreed to treat MHA under its new classification, which allowed for a sanction to be reduced or eliminated if it could be established how a substance entered the body.



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."



SARU's medical manager Clint Readhead insisted "everything in our power" had been done to ensure the supplements provided to players were safe and clean.



As a result of this incident, South Africa will no longer use supplements.



"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."



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