At first you don´t think about it. Sure, it´s a bit weird no one has shown up to drug test your team all season, after all, this is the Super League, the highest level of basketball in Ireland, but you assume your team just wasn’t picked this time and it will happen the next season. But it doesn´t, so you start asking around.

“I have never been tested here in Ireland.”

“No, I have not been tested here.”

“I haven´t no, it´s really weird.”

Ok, so it is weird. In fact, of the more than 20 current and former Super League players you reached out to, only one had been tested. Seven years ago.

You´re surprised because when you played in Sweden, they tested you, and when you played in Norway, they tested you. So, have you just been very unlucky with the people you´ve asked, or are elite-level basketball players just not getting drug tested here?

At this point, the next logical step would be to contact Basketball Ireland, the governing body for the sport on the island of Ireland to find out more.

Why are Irish basketball players not getting drug tested?

From 2016-2019, only 4 drug tests were carried out on basketball players in Ireland. Photo by: Brandon Giesbrecht.

“We fall under Sport Ireland´s anti-doping rules”, says Louise O´Loughlin, Anti-Doping Officer and Chief Operations Officer at Basketball Ireland.

Unlike rugby and many other sports in Ireland, basketball´s governing body does not perform any tests of their own, instead relying on Sport Ireland to conduct the testing.

What stands out about that, is the fact that Sport Ireland, according to their annual reports, didn’t actually conduct any tests on basketball players since between 2016 and 2018, and in 2019 only conducted 4. During the same time span, Sport Ireland has annually carried out tests on several other bodies representing minor Irish sports, such as Cerebral Palsy Sport Ireland, Badminton Ireland, Irish Wheelchair Association Sports, Irish Tug of War Association and Vision Sports Ireland.

“I have never been tested here in Ireland.”

When pressed on this, Sport Ireland, through Communications Manager David Gash, could not give any other answer than that “Sport Ireland takes a risk-based approach to testing in sport”.

The problem with Sport Ireland´s basketball testing is not just the frequency but also the way they do it. Drug testing in Ireland is done by blood and urine tests, and conducted in-competition and out-of-competition. Not one basketball player has been tested out-of-competition since 2011. This means that all tests have been conducted after games and in tournaments, which theoretically would allow Irish basketball players to use banned substances as long as they keep track of how long it takes for the substance to no longer be traceable in a drug test, since they know that no one will ever show up to test them after practices or other out-of-competition activities.

“I don´t know anyone that has been caught yet, and it´s weird when you think about it”, says one Irish Super League player.

The reason he says it´s weird that no one has been caught yet? Because anyone who has been around Irish Super League teams know that recreational drugs are being used by players, even during the season.

“So many players in this league would be screwed if they really tested, and Irish basketball as a whole would be in so much trouble”, says another Superleague veteran who wished to remain anonymous.

“Even a lot of the senior and prominent Irish players use cannabis, so I think they would be really dumb to test”, he continues.

Another player on a top Super League team estimated that a third of his teammates regularly smoke marijuana. Regardless of your personal stance on the legality of cannabis, or drugs in general,  the fact is still that a high percentage of elite-level basketball players in Ireland are using illegal substances, and if we follow Sport Ireland´s logic of “risk-based approach in sports”, then the responsible bodies are clearly missing something.

Sport Ireland is responsible for all drug testing in Irish basketball.

Sport Ireland is responsible for all drug testing in Irish basketball. Photo by: Gavin Golden.

So absent is testing in Ireland that most asked players not only responded that they´ve never been tested, but also that they don´t know anyone who has. Basketball Ireland is seemingly not aware of the problem, or at least would not comment on it, placing all the responsibility on Sport Ireland. That they haven´t reacted to it is strange, as they claim to follow FIBA´s (the international governing basketball body) guidelines and policy on doping. In the period between 2010-2016, the most recent numbers available, FIBA found 49 Anti-Doping violations. FIBA uses the same banned substances list as Sport Ireland, that of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), so Sport Ireland´s “risk-based approach” as a reason for almost never testing basketball rings hollow.

In comparison, 459 basketball tests were carried out in Sweden since 2015, and that very year American import player Chris McKnight was caught with an illegal substance in his body and fired and suspended, something we would also see here in Ireland if we are to believe the players.

“So many players in this league would be screwed if they really tested, and Irish basketball as a whole would be in so much trouble”

No one seems to have an answer to why basketball players in Ireland aren´t being tested. Basketball Ireland simply refers to Sport Ireland who in turn can´t say why they´re not testing basketball players. And it´s not like they´re not testing other sports; one report, from 2017, reveals that they tested 22 other sports for a total of 989 tests. A Leinster Rugby player said that “the team gets tested every few weeks” and Irish Rugby even pays for additional tests.

One could simply point to the money as the reason for the mysterious lack of testing, but as previously mentioned, many other minor sports bodies are still being tested, and Basketball Ireland actually received the fifth most national funding of any sports body in 2019.

The only thing that´s clear, other than the fact that Basketball Ireland and Sport Ireland have, ironically, dropped the ball on this one, is that whatever “risk-based approach” is taken has no basis when comparing it to other sports and organisations´ statistics and that basketball players in Ireland are in a unique position to use illegal substances, be it recreational drugs or performance-enhancing drugs, simply because no one seems to be paying attention.