France’s Laurent Benezech says he was doped at 1995 World Cup
Ex-prop alleges he was given cortisone during tournament, with knowledge of senior officials
Former France prop Laurent Benezech continued to make controversial claims about doping in rugby by telling the French Senate that he believes he was given illegal substances during the 1995 World Cup.
Last month, Benezech claimed doping in rugby was as bad as it was in cycling, and that those involved in running the sport were turning a blind eye to it, in much the same way as cycling had prior to the Festina scandal in 1998.
Now, in his latest broadside against the cleanliness of rugby, Benezech said he had a strong inclination that he was given doping products during the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, where France reached the semi-finals before losing narrowly to the tournament hosts.
"I have a strong belief that during that period I was given cortisone," Benezech told an inquiry into the fight against doping in sport.
The former Toulouse and Racing Metro front row said it was while being treated with cortisone for a retinal detachment in 1999 that he worked out he had already been given the substance on a previous occasion, at the 1995 World Cup.
"I discovered a certain physical euphoria, I didn't feel tired any more … That feeling reminded me that I'd had it once before at a specific time in my career," the 46-year-old said.
Benezech also claimed that the culpability went right to the top of the sport's authorities in France.
"The French team had a doctor, who was Marc Bichon, and a manager, who was Pierre Berbizier," he said.
"I don't think Marc Bichon took it upon himself to put in place a medical protocol without having been directed to do so by the general manager.
"And the general manager, Pierre Berbizier - who I know well, as I also had him as a coach - I don't think he would have taken that decision without the authorisation of the president of the French Rugby Federation at that time [Bernard Lapasset]."
When contacted, Berbizier said he had nothing to say about the claims, but that he would look into the details.
For his part, Bichon claimed it was all a pack of lies.
"My response is simple: I refute every single accusation made by this man," he said.
Bichon also claimed that the French team during the 1995 World Cup tournament "underwent drug testing before leaving for South Africa, when they arrived in Pretoria, and after every match they played, with two players tested each time".
The former doctor complained that such accusations could tarnish his image, as "people will say there is no smoke without fire".
According to the list of prohibited substances and methods published by the World Anti-Doping Agency, cortisone is banned whether administered by oral, rectal, intravenous or intramuscular routes.