SOME schools and their rugby coaches are endangering the future health of their teenage charges by encouraging them to prematurely bulk up their young bodies with supplements, according to one of Ireland’s leading sports medicine experts.
In a scathing condemnation of what he called an ethos of “gaining success from a tub of grey powder”, Professor Brendan Buckley accused some schools of “the gladiatorial mis-use of their children”.
Unlike performance enhancing drugs, muscle-building supplements are not illegal and are easily purchased over the counter.
But Prof Buckley, who is the chairman of the Irish Anti-Doping Committee, said that the excessive and accelerated development of muscle on adolescent skeletons — which are still developing — would cause young players “a serious source of injury” in future.
“You can see tribunals about this in 20 years’ time,” he warned, saying the practice was not exclusive to school rugby, but that was the guiltiest party.
“The degree to which pride is invested in winning school cups, in all the provinces, is excessive,” he said.
“It is leading to a process in which schoolboys are being essentially turned into gladiators, not for their own good.
“Other people are getting their kicks out of this, which is deeply distasteful, but, above all, it is putting young people at risk,” he stressed.
Prof Buckley, a consultant at Cork Regional Hospital, said the Irish Sports Council (ISC) intended to step up its campaign against underage supplement use.
“Ultimately this is going to have to be parents and teachers and school boards setting the agenda that we put before them,” he admitted.
“If they decide that they’re happy to go with the gladiatorial misuse of their children, well that’s their business, but our job is to highlight it.”
ISC chairman Ossie Kilkenny said: “I was in a house and saw a letter from a school asking for a cheque for €280 for supplements when the child in question was standing there flexing his muscles.
“It’s an illness, in a sense that people in this society are openly saying: ‘I want you to bulk up’ when the (governing) body in question — the IRFU — is, itself, publicly stating that this is not acceptable.”
The ISC’s strong anti-supplement stance was the strongest message to come from its annual anti-doping report yesterday, which indicated that its programme against drug cheating, which costs €1.3m annually, is working.
Only three Irish athletes — one each in motorsport, motorcycling and a League of Ireland (soccer) player — failed drugs tests last year, but all were for recreational drugs rather than for performance enhancement.
Four other positives in 2009 were for foreign athletes, and were referred to their home federations. The Irish Independent understands that the most serious of these was a beta-blocker.
In total, the ISC carried out 829 tests nationally and a further 126 at the behest of home or foreign federations.
In the national programme, the most tests were on track-and-field athletes (108, 81 out-of-competition), followed by cyclists (93), GAA (87), and rugby players (76).