By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
16 January 2012
SEAN Long, the former Wigan, St Helens, England and Great Britain international rugby league star, has spoken for the first time – exclusively to Sportingintelligence – about his role in the rugby drugs scandal at Hull FC that led to Martin Gleeson getting a career-ending ban, and about the subsequent cover-up, which involved Hull and other parties.
Gleeson has alleged that the game’s governing body, the Rugby Football League, were also involved in the cover-up and that there is documentary evidence that RFL officials did not pass key information to the authorities when they were obliged to do so under the terms of the UK National Anti-Doping Policy.
Central to the case is who gave Gleeson a dietary supplement called OxyElite Pro, which contained ‘controlled’ stimulant, MHA, as a listed ingredient.
If MHA is found in a sportsman’s body in competition, they can be banned for up to two years for a first offence.
Gleeson, along with the then HULL C.E.O James Rules and the club’s conditioning coach, Ben Cooper, was initially party to a false explanation that Gleeson had bought the OxyElite Pro himself and that Cooper had mistakenly told him it was ‘safe’. The reasoning behind lying early on was an attempt to get a ‘no fault’ short ban for Gleeson, and avoid bad publicity for Hull.
In fact, multiple players had been using the drug, by mistake.
And it was Sean Long who personally gave the OxyElite Pro to Gleeson, to cope with fatigue.
Long has a totally clean record and was only using the supplement himself in error.
The supplement provides a caffeine-like buzz and Long had been using it to combat tiredness. Long had checked it with Cooper and Cooper had – mistakenly – told Long it was safe.
The fact that Long gave the drug to Gleeson is utterly pivotal. Key RFL officials knew this on 3 June, the day Gleeson found out about a positive test in a sample given on 13 May. And yet those officials did not alert UK Anti-Doping at the time, as they should. A cover-up ensued that cost Rule and Cooper their jobs, and landed Rule, Cooper and Gleeson with doping bans.
Gleeson’s was commuted to 18 months when he helped to prosecute Rule and Cooper but nobody from the RFL has faced any sanction.
The RFL say they were cleared on the advice of external legal opinion to UKAD but have failed to answer an array of questions to explain what they knew and when, and why they were apparently party to the cover-up.
‘I gave Martin the OxyElite when he joined Hull and it’s a crying shame that he has been a scapegoat in this case,’ Long told Sportingintelligence today.
‘I’d been using OxyElite Pro for months, and so had other lads at the club, mistakenly, because Coops had told us it was fine.
‘After Gleece tested positive and we heard that news on 3 June, I was in a right panic, and I wasn’t the only one. I’d taken it OxyElite Pro as recently as the night before, the Thursday, and we had a massive derby against Hull KR on the Sunday.
‘I didn’t want to play because there was a danger I’d be tested and a danger I’d fail a test but I was told “It should be out of your system by Sunday.”
‘Incredibly that derby went ahead, with me playing in it, and with Gleece playing in it because they’d got his suspension temporarily lifted on the basis of an untrue story about how he’d got the drugs. And there were other lads who’d used it who also played in that game.
‘I could have tested positive and then “Bang”, that would’ve been a 19-year career down the swanny, ruined. As it happened I dislocated my shoulder and I broke my thumb and I had to go to hospital so I wasn’t available for testing.
‘But the thought of having your reputation ruined is terrible. That’s what’s happened to Martin and I hope the full truth emerges so that everyone can know what really happened.’
A group of Hull players including internationals from more than one country, gave written evidence to a long, secret UKAD investigation into the cover-up to tell how they had used OxyElite Pro mistakenly or knew of its use by other team-mates.
Long, now assistant coach at Salford City Reds, submitted a written statement that included the following:
‘I have been playing professional rugby league for 18 years, internationally since 1997 and I have had a clean record throughout. I have been tested at least 3 to 4 times a year and have always sought approval prior to taking a supplement, in accordance with the regulations of whatever club I have been playing for.
‘I finished my career after 18 years through injury but had I have been tested that day, it could have very easily me or in fact any of the other players in that team. It is unfair and unjust that Martin’s been banned, when he thought what he was taking had been cleared by the club.
‘None of the players that were taking this supplement were taking it as a performance enhancing drug.’
At tribunal, Hull FC did not even provide Gleeson with legal representation. James Rule acted as ‘counsel’ as more lies were told.
‘I believe that if Martin had had the opportunity of proper legal representation at that early stage he would not be facing a two-year ban,’ Long wrote to UKAD. ‘At the most it would have been six months, in line with other rugby union and football players that tested positive for the same substance.’
Long told Sportingintelligence: ‘I hope the full facts are made public now. The truth needs to be told.’