19 February 2013

Felipe Contepomi: Rugby’s anti-doping ambassador

Play True talks to former Argentina rugby skipper Felipe Contepomi about his love of sport and his desire to keep it drug-free through his work with WADA’s Athlete Committee and the International Rugby Board’s anti-doping program.

Felipe Contepomi’s numbers speak for themselves – a professional player for nearly 15 years, capped 78 times for Argentina’s national team the Pumas, and since last June his country’s all-time leading points-scorer.

A genuine star at international level, Felipe is considered one of the best fly-half-cum-centres of his generation and has been at the forefront of Argentina’s rise to become a power on the world rugby stage.

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Felipe grew up in a sporting family. His mother and sister excelled at hockey, while his father and twin brother Manuel also wore the light blue and white hoops of ‘Los Pumas’.

Contepomi senior represented Argentina in the Sixties, while sons Manuel and Felipe were in the same squads for the 1999 and 2003 Rugby World Cups. Felipe’s international career also took in the 2007 and 2011 tournaments in France and New Zealand.

Having played a key role in the Pumas’ third-place finish in 2007, Felipe’s contribution was recognized by his nomination that year for the IRB’s International Player of the Year award.

Felipe plays for Parisian club Stade Français, having joined them in 2012 after stints at French Top 14 rivals Toulon, Irish provincial side Leinster and English club Bristol.

A qualified doctor, Felipe is married with two daughters, and speaks Spanish, English and French. He was appointed to WADA’s Athlete Committee in 2012.

Play True: The IRB launched its anti-doping website and awareness campaign ‘Keep Rugby Clean’ in 2009, for which you are an ambassador. What is your role with the IRB?

Felipe Contepomi: The IRB is making the rugby community aware of the importance of keeping their sport clean, and of not allowing cheaters to be part of it. As a contact sport, rugby is based on honesty and loyalty, and that should also apply to behavior on and off the pitch. My role as an ambassador is to help the IRB to bring this awareness to all levels of the sport.

PT: During the 2012 Junior World Rugby Trophy, players observed Keep Rugby Clean Day - do you think enough effort is being made to educate young rugby players?

FC: There's always room to do a bit more, but overall in the last few years the IRB has been reaching out to young players to educate them and make them aware of the risks and consequences of cheating. The effort definitely is there.

PT: One of the major components of IRB’s Keep Rugby Clean initiative is educating players about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Do you think enough emphasis is put on the health risks of taking PEDs?

FC: Rugby has two main problems, in my opinion. To some degree it is still a social sport and therefore social drugs can be a problem. The other is PEDs, some of which are consciously taken and others which are given by the entourage as supplements. That's why education of the risks and consequences of what can and cannot be taken is crucial.

Sometimes ignorance or ambition leads to young players taking substances that can cause health problems – both immediate and long term. That's why the IRB's educational programs aim to help these players make wise decisions on what they should and should not to take.

PT: Rugby is a tough sport, physically - did it ever cross your mind to use prohibited substances to help you recover from your injuries?

FC: Personally, I've never even taken supplements, but nowadays a lot of players take supplements, or products for recovery. What is important is to try to make them understand that there are methods to recover that do not necessarily involve taking supplements, not to mention prohibited substances.

PT: As a doctor, have you ever been in a situation where a teammate has asked you to prescribe him prohibited substances?

FC: No, and probably no teammate will ever ask me, knowing my views on cheaters. I think people who want to cheat, look for help from doctors who are prepared to help them dope and know exactly what they are doing.

PT: Your twin brother Manuel also played professional and international rugby - did you ever discuss PEDs with him?

FC: We've never discussed them much because we think very similarly in our way of preparing and competing.

PT: You have been playing rugby for some 20 years, for club sides in Argentina, Ireland, England and France. Have you noticed any progress regarding anti-doping education throughout this time?

FC: Definitely, there has been huge progress. Before, anti-doping was an unknown subject and many players probably still don't know enough about it. But there's been progress.

Even now, when nearly 90 per cent of players take some sort of supplement, players start getting more involved in what they are given and are more aware of the different issues around anti-doping.

PT: You have two young daughters, aged six and three - are you concerned about what the world of sport will be like for them?

FC: I am definitely concerned, but not scared. Sport is a great thing for youngsters to be involved in, and it's for all of us to try to keep it that way or even to make it better.

PT: What do you hope to achieve as a member of WADA's Athlete Committee?

FC: I hope to contribute as much as I can to keeping this magic thing called sport as clean as possible, and help to make sure that those magical moments of sporting glory are owned by hard working, gifted athletes and not cheaters.