Japan’s leading rugby league suspended due to drugs scandal days before coronavirus ban was due to end

Top League has been postponed for the rest of the month after a Hino Red Dolphins player was arrested for alleged cocaine use

Jack de Menezes@JackdeMenezes
Monday 09 March 2020 10:52
Joel Everson (pictured playing for Southland in 2015) has been arrested for alleged cocaine use
Joel Everson (pictured playing for Southland in 2015) has been arrested for alleged cocaine use

Japan’s leading rugby union league has postponed all matches for the rest of the month after a player was arrested for an alleged positive drugs test for cocaine, just two weeks after games were suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Japanese Top League issued a statement on Monday to confirm that a player from the Hino Red Dolphins, understood to be New Zealander Joel Everson, was arrested last week for alleged cocaine use.

The incident follows two more positive tests last year, and although matches across the country were due to resume this weekend following a two-week hiatus to contain the spread of coronavirus, all games have been called off for the rest of March in order to conduct “thorough compliance education" with every club.

"We sincerely apologise to fans for the disappointment caused," the league said in a statement.

"We had been working on preventative measures together with all the Top League teams, but it was insufficient. As a result we have betrayed our fans and society, and we must work diligently to restore trust."

Kyodo News reports that form Crusaders, Canterbury and Southland lock Everson was arrested as part of Japanese rugby’s growing drugs scandal, which has seen the Hino Red Dolphins cancel all their remaining games this season. The club was due to have fixtures remaining through to the end of the campaign in May.

“Recently, a Hino Red Dolphins player was arrested for allegedly using illegal drugs, and Hino Red Dolphins have decided to refrain from conducting any further activities indefinitely,” the statement added.

“Based on that, the Japan Rugby Top League is currently suspending the Japan Rugby Top League 2020, and will conduct thorough compliance education.

Everson’s arrest comes not long after a fellow New Zealand player, Steven Yates was arrested for cocaine possession along with former Toyota Verblitz teammate Ryota Kabashima, with both convicted.

Top League chairman Osamu Ota added: “It is regrettable that a player belonging to Hino Red Dolphins, who is participating in the Japan Rugby Top League, was arrested on charges of using illegal drugs. We sincerely apologise to all rugby fans in Japan for their disappointing results.

“Also, the fact that arrests for illegal drugs from multiple teams during the same season is not only a top league problem but also a major problem shaking the existence of the Japanese rugby world, and I think it is an emergency. We have worked together with all the top league teams to prevent recurrence, such as assigning integrity officers to each team, but as a result, we have to say that it was insufficient. We believe that we will betray our fans and society, and we need to work diligently to restore trust and take even more advanced measures than ever before.

Joel Everson played for Crusaders, Canterbury and Southland before moving to Japan

“Rugby competition consists of five core values: dignity, passion, unity, discipline, and respect. If any one of these is missing, it's not rugby. This incident conflicts with most of the core values, and in order to become a league worthy of the name of Japan's highest peak, we will again pursue each team's integrity as the top league and normalise in the entire top league to prove that we can resume Top League 2020.”

The 2020 season started on 12 January and featured six complete rounds before the league was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, which saw games called off for two weeks as part of the request issued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Play was due to resume this weekend, with the likes of Rugby World Cup winners Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick all currently playing in the Top League.

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