When the story first broke last month that the UK Anti-Doping agency (UKAD) had banned Martin Gleeson and his Hull FC colleagues Chief Executive James Rule and Conditioning Coach Ben Cooper, my immediate reaction was one of surprise. Not so much because a player had failed a drugs test, because these days it almost seems inevitable given the amount of stringent testing that goes on. What I was shocked and surprised about was the revelations of the great lengths that James Rule went to, to cover up the entire sorry episode.
My theory is that Rule was acting as a desperate man. A man who desperately wanted to protect his clubs reputation (especially given the fact the club was on the brink of a very significant takeover), as well as save his own reputation. A desperate man can do stupidly desperate things, and in James Rule’s case this hugely backfired on him. Hull FC under the new leadership of the very astute businessman Adam Pearson have since done the right thing and completely overhauled the backroom staff at the club. Hopefully they can now look forward to a successful 2012 and beyond.
Now I thought that this was the end of the matter, until Gleeson decided that enough was enough and gave his side of the story to the Mail on Sunday last week. My initial reaction to this story was that Gleeson was looking for one last big payday by throwing the press some tasty accusations. But now the more I read it, the more I think he might have a right to feel so aggrieved. This evening (Tuesday 16/1) Sean Long – the man who gave Gleeson the offending supplement – has also spoken out. Long claims that nearly the entire Hull FC squad, including himself, were taking OxyElite Pro, a supplement that provides a caffeine-like buzz to prevent the signs of fatigue. Long claims that most of the squad took it with the blessing of club conditioner Ben Cooper, and it was just unfortunate that Gleeson was the one chosen for the routine drug test after an away game at Salford.
Long supports Gleeson and feels it is disgraceful how Hull FC made him a scapegoat, when instead the club should have been upfront and honest with UKAD from the start. The club will undoubtedly have had huge repercussions to deal with, but the players would still have their honour intact. And on that point I completely agree with them.
Remember, this wasn’t anabolic steroids or cocaine at the heart of the matter, it was a caffeine supplement that is actually legal when not in competition. But the question is, who ultimately takes responsibility? Do the players have to do all the research themselves (bearing in mind that many substances have many different names)? Or should they be able to trust the word of the highly qualified team of conditioners, nutritionists and doctors that are on the payroll of these clubs for the players benefit. What if a whole SuperLeague squad was tested and found positive? What would happen then?
Around 10 years ago, St Helens hooker Keiron Cunningham was in a very similar situation after unwittingly taking a banned substance on the advice of an RFL employed nutritionist. He was honest and upfront from the start, and was let off from a ban after the full story came out, and rightly so in my opinion.
99.9% of Rugby League players are honest, hardworking athletes, who work hard to be the best that they can be. If they are given the blessing of a qualified colleague to use a supplement, then that is good enough for me. Others may disagree, but I think that if it can be proven beyond all doubt that it was an honest mistake on the players part, then the buck should ultimately stop with the conditioner.
Of course, the RFL have strenuously denied any involvement in the whole sorry affair and subsequently any wrongdoing. But you have to wonder, just who else knew? It surely can’t have been just Gleeson, Cooper & Rule. There is no doubt that this story still has a long way to go yet…
And remember kids, honesty always is the best policy.