By Nick Friend
The Durham Saints, the University’s mixed American Football team, have found themselves at the centre of controversy after BUCS rescinded the ten points earned through Durham’s victories in each of their first five games of the Premier North season. The fifth of these, a 50-12 triumph against Loughborough, was covered by Palatinate on the back page of the edition published on 9th February 2017, praising the side for their unbeaten start to the season, which included inflicting a first ever BUCS home defeat on Stirling University.
Although the point deduction has not prevented the Saints from reaching the playoffs – they will travel to Worcester’s Sixways Stadium to face Stirling in the competition’s final – the dramatic scenes have tempered the club’s success.
The sanctions are the result of the fielding of an ineligible player for the first five games of the season. The side’s victories since February – five successive wins against Derby, Nottingham Trent, Stirling, Hertfordshire and Loughborough – have been allowed to stand because head coach, Jonathan Rooney, is said to have been made aware of the situation and subsequently dropped the offending player.
The player’s ineligibility does not relate to any offence committed at Durham, but to an anti-doping offence from his time playing in Finland in May 2016. Having tested positive for WADA-banned performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) – namely 7-keto-DHEA metabolites and amphetamines – his contract with Tampere Saints in Finland’s Vaahtera Liiga was immediately terminated, with a four-year ban from the sport handed down in November 2016, a month after beginning his studies at the University.
Quentin Sloper, Director of Sport, Music and Theatre for Experience Durham, explained that the situation was allowed to manifest itself because the student had not been charged with an anti-doping rule violation when he applied to Durham, or when the University offered him a scholarship. The violation subsequently resulted in a four-year ban – a punishment only handed down once the player had arrived at Durham. As a result, the University only became aware of any wrongdoing after the British American Football Association were contacted by Finland’s American Football governing body in early February 2017.
Sloper highlighted this further in a statement in relation to BUCS’s response to the matter, explaining that the inquiry found that the University had acted in good faith.
“The situation itself was reviewed by British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) in February 2017. BUCS has deemed that in accordance with REG 12.9.9, Durham University took all reasonable action and therefore the forfeiture of fixtures due to a breach of REG 6.13, including eligibility regulations, is beyond the reasonable control of the Club and Sport Department. BUCS sanctioned Durham University with 5 involuntary walkovers. There will be no further sanctions beyond this, as a consequence of the findings and review undertaken by BUCS,” Sloper said.
“Durham University strongly condemns the use of performance-enhancing drugs and other doping behaviour and in August 2016 we commenced a three year accreditation programme with UK Anti-Doping to become a Clean Sport Hub. We are one of only a small number of British HE institutions who are part of the programme. We have a published Clean Sport Statement, a number of staff are qualified UKAD Accredited Educators and our coaches (and some of our student leaders) are also UKAD Accredited Advisers. Given the experience amongst our staff and student leaders we have been able to work with many of our clubs to provide education sessions and to increase awareness throughout the academic year.”
Durham Saints did not respond to requests for comment. However, Sloper claimed that the “student has consistently stated that he did not believe that he was ineligible for BUCS competition and did not fail a drugs test whilst in the UK. This is the reason why it was not brought to the club’s attention by the player.”
Photograph: Team Durham