Oval Talk

Armitage affair highlights some important issues

Steffon Armitage's current situation has once again brought to the fore some important issues with regards to doping regulations that desperately need to be cleared up.

The Toulon player, formerly of London Irish and capped five times by England, produced an 'abnormal' result in a doping test after a game for his French club on June 9. The subject of his alleged infraction of the rules was the presence of the prohibited substance morphine in his urine sample.

Toulon were quick to put out a statement in which they said the presence of morphine was a natural side effect of painkillers taken by Armitage to help ease a back problem. Importantly the medication administered to him by the club doctor was, according to Toulon, authorised by the French Agency for the Fight against Doping (AFLD).

"I am going to keep my head held high as I have done nothing wrong," said Armitage in the wake of the revelation. "I know things will soon get sorted out, that I will be able to move on and come back stronger."

It is a complicated situation but Armitage, who has been scheduled to appear before a French Rugby Federation anti-doping commission on August 21, has been provisionally suspended while the issue is dealt with.

The point now raised is why a medication that can be naturally converted into morphine by the body is a) permitted and b) if permitted, not recognised as producing a certain level of a particular substance as a side effect, and this therefore taken into account.

The lack of clarity and, to some extent, research by the governing bodies who implement such guidelines for banned substances leaves clubs and players treading too fine a line. It also exposes them to the very real possibility of breaching regulations which have no firm boundaries. Armitage's experience is a perfect example of that.

The club remain adamant that he is innocent and confident he will be cleared, while Armitage — as the quote above suggests — believes he has nothing to hide. However, confusion over just how the land lies is something that needs to be avoided at all costs, and is also something that in this era of sport cannot be left to chance and therefore misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

If elite sport of any discipline is to hope for a clean image, the rightful reprimand of those abusing substances, and the avoidance of athletes' integrity and/or reputations being tainted then much firmer and clearer guidelines need to be put in place.