League stalwart banned 10 years for cannabis

By TONY SMITH - The Press

Last updated 05:00 04/03/2010


A New Zealand Residents rugby league international banned for 10 years for a third anti-doping code breach has said he was unable to stop smoking cannabis despite two previous penalties.

Canterbury Bulls prop Vince Whare, 32, escaped a potential lifetime ban after testing positive to cannabis after a national provincial premiership match against Taranaki last September.

Whare – a 101-game veteran who was voted Canterbury's players' player of the year – was unavailable for comment last night.

But the Sports Tribunal, which imposed the penalty this week, stated in its decision he had told them he had been "unable to curb an addiction to cannabis despite my trying on many occasions without success".

He said he was "deeply remorseful" that his rugby league achievements over the past 20 years had been "undermined by my off-field antics over the past five years".

Whare, a former New Zealand Residents representative, gave evidence he had used cannabis recreationally, not to enhance his performance. He said he had had "a few puffs" in a social setting about 10 days before he tested positive in Taranaki.

However, the tribunal noted the level of cannabis in his test sample seemed "consistent with a regular user".

It also noted his assertion of addiction was not supported by any evidence, in fact his evidence was "to the contrary". It could not be regarded as demonstrating a "lesser degree of fault".

The tribunal noted it had warned and fined Whare after he tested positive to cannabis in 2005. But he was back before the tribunal in 2006 for a similar offence and was suspended for two years.

That ban ended at the end of 2008. Whare helped Canterbury win the national final last year – a few weeks after his positive test in Taranaki. He played on with a deep gash to a head wound and earned selection in the New Zealand Residents team.

The tribunal remarked Whare had "fine personal qualities" and it was "not surprising that we apprehend his regret and distress at what this means for his family, himself, his teams and his club."

Bulls coach Brent Stuart said in a testimonial to the tribunal that Whare's work etiquette on and off the field was "second to none" and he was "one of the first to visit children suffering from cancer in hospital".

Whare's Riccarton Knights club also produced a testimonial describing him as "an amiable individual who will do anything for anybody, especially for his peers".

The club held a "very real concern for him if the suspension has the finality of a life ban". There was "strong support for his rehabilitation".

Club officials said in a submission cannabis use was prevalent in society and sport but was not, in their view, a performance enhancing drug nor was it "risky or dangerous to those playing the game". It was harmful to health but so was alcohol and other non-performance enhancing drugs.

They said: "It does seem incongruous to us that somebody using cannabis can, even with a third offence such as Vince has committed, be facing a lifetime ban, putting him on a par with those drug cheats who use drugs that really do have performance enhancing properties."

But the tribunal noted that at the time of his two earlier breaches Whare was warned "of the likely penalty if he offended again".

It said it had assessed and taken into account all the circumstances including his "deliberate breaching of the rules despite previous warnings, his personal circumstances, including the effect of suspension and the nature of cannabis and its social use". It had decided on a penalty greater than the eight-year minimum but less than the maximum lifetime ban.

Whare told a Christchurch newspaper in September – just after his positive test in Taranaki – that his two-year ban was not harsh. "No, I've got two boys and I don't want them growing up and doing the same things as me," he said. "There are rules and regulations and you've got to abide by them. I deserved it."

Whare was the second Canterbury Bulls player in two years suspended by the Sports Tribunal. Scrumhalf Duane Wineti received a two-year ban in December 2008 for anti-doping violations related to methamphetamine, amphetamine and cannabis. He tested positive after the national premiership grand final on September 28, 2008.