Wihongi handed drugs ban
March 31, 2011
Karena Wihongi has been banned for four months © Getty Images
Sale Sharks prop Karena Wihongi has been banned for four months after testing positive for a banned stimulant.
The 31-year-old appeared before a Rugby Football Union (RFU) disciplinary panel earlier this month, having been provisionally suspended from playing and training by the RFU on January 28.
Wihongi tested positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine following an Aviva Premiership game between Sale and Newcastle at Kingston Park three weeks earlier and has now been suspended until May 27, sidelining him for the rest of this season.
Sale insisted that the stimulant had entered Wihongi's system "without any pre-meditated plan to gain an advantage".
"It was demonstrated to the panel that the stimulant became present via a contaminated product that was available through the club's supplements programme," a statement said.
"When the product in question was supplied to the club it was issued with a batch test certificate that showed no traces of any banned substance. The ingredients of the product had previously been checked and all had been cleared."
Under the terms of his ban, which runs from the date of his provisional suspension, Wihongi is not able to participate in playing, training, coaching, officiating, selection, team management, administration or promotion of the game.
"Sale Sharks would like to place on record our full support for the UK anti-doping testing programme," the Sale statement continued. "There is no place in sport for drug cheats, and the penalties enforced for those that attempt to gain an advantage by using banned substances are correct and appropriate.
"However, the club are frustrated and disappointed with the verdict given to a player who, without his knowledge, took a product that was wrongly contaminated. While the player and the club have the right to appeal the verdict, they will not be doing so. Karena Wihongi retains the full support of the club, and we look forward to his return to playing."
In January, Springboks Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson were cleared for a return to action after a Judicial Committee found that there was "no fault" on the part of the players for positive tests for the same stimulant. The duo had earlier been sent home from South Africa's northern hemisphere tour.
Methylhexaneamine is thought to stimulate the central nervous system and increase the body's metabolic rate to give it an energy boost. It was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list last year after the organisation noticed it appearing in nutritional supplements.
Rugby Players' Association chief executive Damian Hopley slammed the "inconsistency" of punishments handed out to players, claiming there had been a lack of empathy shown towards Wihongi.
"The RPA fully endorses the fight against doping in all forms of sport and actively promotes strong anti-doping messages to all of our members," he said. "But we are extremely concerned at the inconsistency concerning the recent punishments handed out to players who have unknowingly taken these contaminated substances containing the stimulant methylhexaneamine.
"The fact that Karena was given the supplement at half-time in a game with the tacit understanding that the substances were certified as clean, seems to have had no impact whatsoever in the sentence that was subsequently passed.
"While we fully accept that all athletes are ultimately responsible for whatever supplements they ingest, the RPA will be taking up this matter with the relevant national and international authorities as we believe this inconsistency and the lack of empathy shown in this case is wholly unacceptable in professional sport."
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