Eoin Reddan: Irish rugby does not have a drugs problem

The retired scrum-half was speaking on Thursday afternoon

Eoin Reddan: Irish rugby does not have a drugs problem

Eoin Reddan at Vodafone Ireland's #TeamOfUs Swap Shop. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Eoin Reddan is enjoying the retired life.

The Limerick born scrum-half announced his retirement from rugby in the summer. His last game came for Ireland in the Third Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth. After an eight-week break he returned to civilian life, and now works as a business analyst for an aircraft leasing firm in Ballsbridge.

Reddan is one of only a handful of players to win a Heineken/Champions Cup title with more than one club. Ahead of the opening weekend of Champions Cup fixtures this weekend, the 35-year-old spoke on Thursday afternoon at the launch of Vodafone Ireland’s #TeamOfUs shirt swap.

After L’Equipe reported that three Racing 92 players including Dan Carter had traces of a corticosteroid found in their systems before last summer’s Top 14 Final, the former Wasps and Leinster star was asked if he felt drugs were used in the game.

“I feel like I’ve been living in bubble. I never even would have considered it… if you take a 1,000 rugby players and a 1,000 athletes, there has got to be some fall over, that there is going to be a portion of people that will try it. From a logic point of view it has got to be in the game.”

Reddan played in Ireland over two spells, and he admitted he would be surprised, if drugs were an issue in the Irish rugby community.

“I can honestly say if it was in Ireland, I’d be shocked. I’d be shocked because I’d know the people involved. If you look from the stats point of view you shouldn’t be shocked.”

He wants to see the system used to catch drug cheats stay ahead of the game itself, and try to continuously modernise.

"You can't have a system that just competes with the people that try it recreationally. Your system has got to be lined up for people that would literally chop of their arm to compete for England or Wales, because it they chop of their right arm to do that, they’re going to look into how to beat the system.

"Guys who want to win gold medals, and cheat - I do believe there is the same level of ambition in rugby in terms of how badly people want things… You need to want to catch somebody as bad as they want to do it."

Reddan and former teammate Donncha O'Callaghan. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The standards that other sports use to test their athletes should be the same in rugby, Reddan argued.

“You shouldn’t be testing Tour de France cyclists, more rigidly than Irish rugby players. You should be applying the same to both. The motivations in those minds, the ambition is as high… You have to understand that that ambition will push through. The ambition has to match that.”

In light of the cycling scandals of the 21st century, Reddan feels elite players could be using drugs, but are less likely to get caught, compared to players at a lower level.

“I always thought that until I read those cycling books.... If you’re the kind of guy that’s in a culture where his sport is doping. The guy that wants to win the most is going to have a constant battle of ‘Should I dope to win, or should I win clean?’”

“After reading those books, it seems to me that the cyclists that managed to dope and win were the guys who wanted it most. They were the smartest. I don’t mean smart in a good way. They were very clever people with very dark ambitions. It is the ambition that creates that debate in their head.”

“I think you might catch a guy in the AIL, a lot quicker than you will catch a guy in the elite. The reason I’m applying that is because cyclists who were out cycling at the weekend will bet caught before Lance Armstrong, because Lance Armstrong has more money. He is probably more ambitious. He probably has a bigger goal in sight.”

“It’s easier to catch guys in the lower end. They are more likely to get caught first. I think we need to send a message if you want to keep rugby clean for 20 years. You need to put the type of standards you do in cycling.”

Reddan revealed, the over the course of his career he was drug-tested on average at three or four times a season. He feels that if testing improves, it will deter players.

“You could literally start testing everyone in the AIL and probably catch a guy. Could you test World Rugby with your current form of testing and categorically state everyone you tested is clean? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s rigorous enough yet.”

Reddan at a 2015 World Cup training session. Picture by Andrew Matthews PA Archive/Press Association Images

“I don’t think there is any drug issue in Ireland. I can say that absolutely clearly. I would have said that when I was a player. My opinion is that there are sports in the world that has very rigorous drug testing. Those sports might have cultures of doping and that’s why those testing levels have been heightened. My point is let's get ahead of the game in rugby.”

“I’m not saying there is an issue in rugby. I’m say that statistically there probably is. There has to be. I think it would be a lot, lot lower than other sports… In my head it’s clean, relatively to other sports.”

Reddan is confident that there isn't a drug-taking culture in Irish rugby, but feels that may change if World Rugby’s drug-testing regime is not improved.

"Do I think it’s an issue? I wouldn’t think so, yet. I think that it is 100% guaranteed to become an issue, unless you apply that standards that you apply. Why don’t you apply the sames standards to rugby players, that you do to cycling? It’s just a common sense approach.

"We’re ahead of the game in terms of being clean, because of the culture within the game, but you can’t rely on that culture to keep us there. You have got to improve doping standards… Don’t rely on the culture of it.

"Not in my 15 years of playing, have I ever been even close to [doping]. Not even seen anything or suspected anyone. I’m saying that’s not enough. It would be stupid to sit here and say; ‘There’s no doping in rugby’, and ignore what’s coming down the line. Whether it’s now, or next year or the year after that, it is coming. We need to get ahead of it now.”

Although he thinks the sport is clean, he can see a time in the future where that may change. There’s simply too much money and success at stake.

“There’s too much ambition. You look at all the other sports. There was a time when they were all clean. Cycling was clean at one point. It’s not now. You know how hard it is to pull it back in. You can see what’s going on. It’s very hard.”

Eoin Reddan was speaking at the launch of Vodafone Ireland’s #TeamOfUs Shirt Swap. Kicking off on Saturday 15th October, Vodafone customers can swap their old Irish rugby jerseys to get 50% off the brand new Ireland home jersey by simply dropping off their old jersey at any Vodafone store nationwide.