Japan Rugby League One and Japan Rugby Football Union Joint Statement in Relation to the Arrest of a Former NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu Player for Possession of Illicit Drugs

The Japan Rugby League One (JRLO) and the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) positions compliance and the pursuit of integrity as fundamental pillars of Japanese rugby and have continually worked on education and countermeasures in this area. We are therefore deeply disappointed that this incident has occurred despite these efforts. We would like to express our sincerest apologies to our fans and all our stakeholders and will take every possible measure to prevent future incidents of this nature.

On December 30, 2021, Blake Ferguson, then a player with NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu, was arrested on suspicion of possession of illicit drugs, a serious violation of the law. In response to this, the club terminated the player’s contract on January 2, 2022. It also conducted drug testing of all its players on January 3, with all players returning negative results. Based on this outcome, NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu has decided to participate in its Japan Rugby League One matches as scheduled.

The JRLO and JRFU will determine and announce any further disciplinary sanctions to be imposed on the player.

JRLO Integrity Initiatives

The JRLO and its predecessor, the Japan Rugby Top League, have consistently positioned compliance and the pursuit of integrity as fundamental pillars of Japanese rugby. As part of this, the following actions have been taken:

September 2019: Appointing Integrity Officers in each of 16 Top League clubs to clarify the responsibilities and objectives of promoting integrity.

November 2019: Conducted training for Integrity Officers and established guidelines for club integrity activities.

November 2019 – March 2020: Clubs conducted integrity activities based on the above guidelines, including intra-club training on general issues (structures, rules and regulations, organizational culture, etc.), anti-doping, illicit drugs, and road traffic offenses.

March 2020: Integrity Officers’ meeting held.

April 2020: All clubs submitted reports on the implementation of integrity training.

April 2020: A first round of league-wide drug testing was conducted for every player in the Japan Rugby Top League.

November 2020: Integrity seminar held.

February 2021: A second round of drug tests were conducted for every player in the Japan Rugby Top League.

Unfortunately, the occurrence of this incident suggests that these initiatives and actions have not been sufficient. We will therefore work together with the clubs to ensure compliance and further integrity, in order to prevent any recurrence in the future.

Future Actions

The Japan Rugby League One will take the following actions to reinforce its commitment to compliance and integrity. Firstly, to ensure that all players are drug free, drug test will be conducted on all players as soon as possible, starting on January 5. Based on these results, we will review our operations as deemed necessary.

Next, we will take the following actions to prevent any recurrence in the future:

  • Strengthen the JRLO Integrity System
  • Establish the Integrity Committee within the League (appointing a third party and  legal counsel).
  • Identify and appoint an Integrity Officer for the league and each member club.
  • Provide a consultation service for players.
  • Thorough awareness and behavioral change of players and managements in clubs
  • Fully understand the roles and responsibilities of the Integrity Officer through training sessions and implement them thoroughly.
  • Establish an action guideline
  • Conduct regular training through clubs every two months / review their implementation by the league.
  • Strengthen deterrence
  • Conduct high frequency, random drug testing.
  • Establish guidelines for background checks at the time of signing new player contracts.
  • Strengthen penalties for integrity violations and consider revising rules and regulations.

The League will take these actions to ensure compliance and integrity of league players at the earliest opportunity. The League will work with the JRFU as the governing body of Japanese rugby, to implement further measures and consider the development and review of various new and existing regulations. Through these measures, we will make our utmost efforts to restore the trust of our fans and all our stakeholders as quickly as possible.

Based on the above measures, it has been confirmed that the Japan Rugby League One 2022 will be held as scheduled.

Shoji Hajime, Japan Rugby League One CEO, commented:

“We would like to express our sincere apologies to all fans and stakeholders for the recent non-compliance by a former Japan Rugby League One player. The compliance and integrity of the players is the foundation of League One’s development and growth as a league. After deep reflection, we are determined to raise the awareness of players, club members, and league officials, and to ensure they act accordingly.”

Kensuke Iwabuchi, Japan Rugby Football Union Chairman, commented:

“The JRFU, as the governing body of the game in Japan, have a supervisory role on the Japan Rugby League One, which is a member organization of the union. We deeply regret that we have not been able to sufficiently establish the necessary supervisory system within the League.

World Rugby identifies five core values in its Playing Charter, the first of which is ‘Integrity’. Integrity is not only something that the players must embody on the field, but also something that all those involved in rugby must adhere to off the field. It is necessary to strongly appeal to people in Japan and abroad that illegal drugs will never be tolerated in Japanese rugby. We need to ensure that every club and player is aware of this fact and create a system that can ensure this.

In the future, the Japan Rugby Football Union will lead the way in developing a system to promote the integrity in the League One, implementing ongoing training and improving viability, governance, and management quality. We would like to take the lead in these things and work together to make improvements. I would like to ask for your continued support as we make our utmost efforts to restore the trust of fans and all concerned parties as soon as possible.”