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RFU Illicit Drugs Policy

The banning of England and Bath prop forward Matt Stevens after a positive test for cocaine in January 2009 and the drug-related misconduct charges brought in August 2009 against three other Bath players, came amid a general rise in illicit drug use in society. Concerns about the health and welfare of players and also damage to the image and reputation of rugby led the RFU to develop an illicit drugs policy in partnership with Premier Rugby Limited (PRL) and the Rugby Players Association (RPA).

Although a lack of qualitative and quantitative data on illicit drug use in English rugby union mean it is difficult to draw any clear conclusions, seven positive tests in the RFU anti-doping testing programme from 2004 to 2009 were for illicit drug use. There are a number of illicit drug case studies, useful for highlighting how players can learn from the mistakes of others. 

The new illicit drugs policy has been informed by models of good practice from other sports, such as the Australian Football League and National Rugby League in Australia. Work began in earnest with an Illicit Drugs Forum held at Twickenham Stadium on July 15, 2009. It was attended by key stakeholders including the RFU, PRL, RPA, Aviva Premiership clubs, UK Anti-Doping and the IRB, and the results were used to inform policy as the illicit drugs programme took shape courtesy of an RFU Illicit Drugs Working Group which included PRL and RPA representation.

An integrated three-fold programme of education, testing and sanction (as a deterrent), and counselling/treatment is now underway. The testing programme also provides for Aviva Premiership clubs to request a pre-employment drugs test on any prospective new signings subject to player agreement. The RFU Pre-Employment Drug Test Request Form (MS Word DOC 38kB) can be used for this.

In essence, the RFU illicit drugs policy is a two-strike policy, meaning that for a first positive test (or first admission of use), the matter is kept confidential between the RFU illicit drugs staff, the player and his club’s medical officer. The problem is dealt with as a confidential health-related issue with the focus firmly on how to help the player deal with and be treated for his drug use.

Only if the player fails to comply, or commits a second violation, is the player liable to suspension and public disclosure of the reasons for his suspension. (It should be noted, however, that positive tests for illicit drugs following in-competition tests conducted under the anti-doping programme continue to be dealt with in accordance with the anti-doping regulations to the exclusion of the illicit drugs policy, although counselling and treatment may still be made available to the player.)

Illicit Drugs Policy Revisions – Effective September 1, 2010

Changes have been made to the RFU Illicit Drugs Policy for the 2010-11 season, in close collaboration with Premiership Rugby and the RPA. These changes will be effective as of the September 1.

A summary of the major points is a follows:

  • Adverse hair tests become a violation of the policy and subject to same sanction as other violations
  • Pre-employment tests remain monitoring samples but can be used to justify target testing
  • Club medical officers permitted to share details of Illicit Drugs assessments, testing and rehab of a player who transfers to another Club with the new Club's medical officer but only with player permission
  • Admission of use post or during testing, where the player might believe it will prove positive, is treated as a violation with all the sanctions associated.

For details of all the revisions to the RFU Illicit Drugs Policy, please ready the RFU Illicit Drugs Policy 2010-11 Revisions and Rationale (PDF 42kB).

RFU Illicit Drugs Policy Documents