Cocaine a major issue in French rugby

Australian international James O'Connor was arrested in Paris on Feb 25 in possession of cocaine.
Australian international James O'Connor was arrested in Paris on Feb 25 in possession of cocaine.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Allegations about the widespread use of cocaine in French professional club rugby surfaced on Tuesday when the chairman of the French players' union said that he suspected that there was cocaine use in every club and that "in our society, someone needs to die for anyone to do anything".

The comments follow the arrest at the weekend of James O'Connor, the Australia and Toulon player, and Ali Williams, the All Black World Cup-winner who plays for Racing 92.

The two players spent a night in a Paris jail, after which Williams was charged with buying cocaine and O'Connor was charged with possession.

The charges led to a debate about the prevalence of cocaine use among French rugby players.

Robins Tchale-Watchou, the Montpellier lock, said that it was a problem that was being ignored and insisted that the O'Connor and Williams issue should not be dismissed as a one-off.

"Above all, we must not just say that these are isolated cases, that the presumption of innocence must prevail and that we should not stain the image of our sport," he said.

"Of course it (cocaine in rugby) exists. I challenge any club director to tell me that no one in his team consumes cocaine. If I am wrong, we are blessed by the gods, exempt from the problems of wider society."

Tchale-Watchou added that two years ago Provale, the players' union, appealed to the French league for help in installing a programme to combat recreational drug use, but that it had fallen on deaf ears.

"We are still waiting for an answer," he said.

"One director told me, 'I am not going to give a player €300,000 (S$445,300) and worry what will become of him afterwards'."

Christian Bagate, a former chairman of the French Rugby Federation's medical committee, said that players took cocaine and corticosteroids on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in order to get through training sessions at the start of the week and recover in time for the match at the weekend.

Damian Hopley, the chief executive of the Rugby Players' Association, said: "We are trying to be proactive, through education and a thorough testing programme, to ensure that this doesn't become an issue and that players are aware of their responsibilities."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Cocaine a major issue in French rugby'. Print Edition | Subscribe