GAVIN RICH: Boks don’t have a doping culture, but schools do
That the Irish media intended to focus on SA rugby’s supposed steroids issue was obvious from the first week of the World Cup tournament
Former Ireland lock Neil Francis’s attempt to undermine the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup triumph has rightly been seen by respected rugby people such as former Wales coach Warren Gatland for the bitter rant that it was, but that does not mean SA should ignore the issue that gave fuel to his view.
That the Irish media were intending to focus on SA rugby’s supposed drug culture was obvious from the first week of the tournament. The Boks were playing the All Blacks, yet there were Irish journalists present at the early media conferences in Tokyo Bay intent on only asking questions about drugs.
The Boks were expecting the scrutiny to intensify on that, and other extraneous (in strictly rugby terms) issues such as the cloud hanging at the time over Eben Etzebeth, once the knockouts arrived. For there was an expectation that a quarterfinal meeting with Ireland was in their future.
I’ve never understood or had much patience for the kind of thinking that took hold in the Australian media when that nation’s cricket captain of a previous era, Steve Waugh, started to preach the need for the home media to mentally disintegrate visiting opponents as part of an overall quest for Australian victory.
For goodness sake, it was understandable when Winston Churchill called for media assistance in building patriotism and subverting the enemy intentions during World War 2. But that was because the entire existence of the nation was at stake and they were fighting Hitler.
When the Irish media followed up the opening week’s questioning by pitching in some numbers at a media conference in Nagoya the next week, a place far away from where Ireland were playing their next game, it did suggest the fears of a concerted Irish media effort to deflect the Boks were well founded.
His countryman Brian O’Driscoll joined Gatland in disagreeing with Francis’s published views on the basis that the article had no factual substance
Where the Irish got it wrong was that they were taking their team’s next game too lightly. They should have been in Shizuoka focusing on their team’s clash with Japan, one they lost and which sent them on a collision course with New Zealand in their quarterfinal.
So history will reflect that the Bok-Ireland quarterfinal that the Irish were building up to for two years never happened, and with the exception of Francis, the rest of the Irish acknowledged the Boks’ World Cup win, and some of them welcomed it.
But of course in every bed of roses there will always be a few thorns, and somehow Francis, without any basis in fact, tried to tarnish the Bok win.
His countryman Brian O’Driscoll joined Gatland in disagreeing with Francis’s published views on the basis that the article had no factual substance. But let’s not completely ignore what Francis has to say. He’s wrong regarding alleging a drug culture in the professional level of the game in SA.
There was a Bok player, Aphiwe Dyantyi, who tested positive in the build-up to the World Cup. But, as Bok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot pointed out in that first week’s questioning, wasn’t the fact that Dyantyi was tested positive and left out of the squad proof enough that SA rugby, at professional level, does take the drug problem seriously?
Pressure on schoolboys
I stress “professional level” for a reason. For there is certainly a problem at schools level. Schools are reluctant to test in the same way that SA Rugby does. The only time the governing body does get to test effectively is at Craven Week, and the results of that testing in the past few years make for rather sobering reading.
What needs to be addressed is what gives rise to this problem, which is the increasing over-professionalisation of the country’s school rugby, and the pressure that is brought to bear by parents and coaches on schoolboys to win and succeed at all costs.
There’s a mistaken impression among parents that professional rugby is a conduit to becoming wealthy. That is true for only a tiny percentage who do make it, and it is a very small percentage of schoolboy players who actually make it into the professional ranks at all.
There are many parents pushing kids towards a mirage, and schools who build their reputations about the success of their rugby teams aren’t helping the situation.
Regardless of whether or not parents know their kids abuse performance-enhancing drugs, there should be an awareness that the pressure being brought to bear on young people to perform is what pushes them towards cheating.
We should be trying to do something about it even if there is some irony in the fact that those who are making so much noise about the drug culture at schoolboy level hail from nations that feed off SA’s schoolboy talent to improve their depth — they recruit from within the drug culture they supposedly abhor.