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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Aaron Bower

Former Leigh player discusses widespread substance abuse in rugby league

A former Super League player has lifted the lid on the scale of drug abuse in rugby league after receiving a backdated suspension from UK Anti-Doping - insisting that you were 'abnormal' if you didn't use either recreational or performance-enhancing drugs during his time in the sport.

Jamie Acton appeared at the highest level of the professional game for Leigh Centurions and began his career in the prestigious Wigan Warriors youth setup.

He has now retired from the sport to pursue other opportunities but revealed this week how he has been banned after a sample from eight years ago was retrospectively tested. UKAD described the case as the first of its kind, where adverse findings were discovered after re-analysis of a sample that had been stored.

Acton has previously admitted to taking drugs throughout his playing career, and said that the RFL asked him to take down a social media post in which he came clean about his substance abuse, alleging that the governing body suggested he was bringing the sport into disrepute.

But Acton refused and has now gone one step further, sharing another video to his Instagram profile explaining just how rife drugs are in the sport.

"I've put a video up before talking about all the drugs I took during my rugby career, and how it had a negative impact in my life for a variety of reasons," he said.

"It caused me a lot of problems regarding my mental health and it took me a long time to get over. I got a call after putting that video up from the RFL, and they said to take it down because I was putting the sport in disrepute.

"It's unfortunate because I love rugby league, and it's given me loads in my life. I would never want to speak badly about the game but as any governing body stands, there are elements they don't get right. Regarding player welfare and mental health there's a massive area of improvement we can make.

"This was highlighted by their response to me, trying to demonise it by making me remove the video shows the lengths they'll go to in order to not reveal the reality of the situation, which is that unfortunately, rugby players take drugs: socially and performance-enhancing. You're probably deemed as abnormal in the rugby world if you haven't taken drugs, either socially or performance-enhancing."

Acton now says that in light of that video, a prior sample he had provided to the governing body during his time in the professional game was tested for GHRP6, a type of growth hormone which, at the time, there was no relevant science available to test for.

"It was like a game of cat and mouse," he admitted. "A few players started to get banned for said drug, and I stopped taking it after we released the science had become available to test it.

"Fast-forward eight years, coincidentally they've gone back to test me for this drug people were taking at the time and I've been banned. I think I'm the first retired rugby player to ever be banned, and I think that's the furthest they've ever gone back to ban a player. I suppose they're trying to show that you shouldn't take drugs."

He has now received a two-year suspension from all forms of sport after the sample from December 2014 returned a positive result for GHPR6.

“As advances in technology allow us to better detect prohibited substances, sample re-analysis forms a vital part of our testing strategy," UKAD Acting Chief Executive Officer Pat Myhill said.

"This case shows that we will catch up with athletes who mistakenly think they can evade detection. We keep many samples from a variety of sports in our long-term storage facility and regularly conduct this kind of analysis."

Acton insists his priority now is sharing his experiences of substance abuse so that young players do not follow the same path.

"The communication isn't there to talk about how that affects your mental health," he said. "I think it's important for ex-players and current players to talk about their own experiences and let younger players learn from our faults. If I had my time again, I wouldn't do it and if people I looked up to in the sport were telling me it was a bad idea and how it negatively impacted them, then I could have learned lessons on their behalf.

"Their response to this mechanism is to silence me, and they want to alienate me and say I'm in the wrong. Yeah, 100% I'm in the wrong, it's why I've done a video saying I took loads of drugs and I shouldn't have done it. It's important to get that message out there to try and change the culture of turning a blind eye towards your friends and colleagues in the rugby sphere."

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