Drugs in sport: Time to end the war

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With drugs in sport leaping back into the news, Simon Tatz says it's time for sports administrators to rethink their aimless war on drugs.

IT IS OVER A YEAR NOW since the so-called ‘blackest day in Australian sport’. 

You’ll recall that was when the previous Government announced that criminal gangs had infiltrated our sporting codes, and henceforth an inquisition that would make the Spaniards proud would be unleashed on the evil imbibers of peptides, steroids, party drugs and cocktails of exotic concoctions.

During the year, as our detention centres fill up with innocent people seeking asylum in one of the richest and least populated countries in the world, our law enforcement agencies have locked no one up or uncovered no international ring of Walter White meth producers. A few players have been ‘caught’, but their penalties seem minor compared to the criminality of Queensland bikers who dare to eat ice-cream in public with their kiddies. The solitary confinement dished out to a few Harley riders hardly seems fair when drug ‘cheats’ walk freely among us. 

So it’s about time that we rethink this war on drugs in sport, and the war on drugs in general. With U.S. states now legalising cannabis and Customs and Border Protection unable to decide whether illegal drugs or ‘illegal’ boats are the biggest threat to our national sovereignty, maybe we can be mature enough to ask whether drugs in sport is something governments should be involved in preventing.

ASADA (the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority) spends its days and nights knocking of the doors of professional and amateur athletes, beaker in hand, demanding urine samples be produced forthwith. Heaven forbid that when Australian athletes compete against North Koreans, Chinese or Russians, we aren’t guilty of taking the wrong cough tablet or headache pill.

According to their spiel, ASADA is

'... a government statutory authority that is Australia's driving force for pure performance in sport. It is the organisation with prime responsibility for implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code in Australia.'

So the government spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars making sport ‘pure’: wholesome, untainted, clean and unsullied. I’m not saying ASADA shouldn’t test athletes any more than I’m suggesting the police shouldn’t stop people taking recreational drugs — it’s the laws that are wacky, not the people who diligently enforce them.

Let’s be honest, no one believes sport is ‘pure’ and that it is a wholesome pastime. Professional sport is about as clean as Keith Richards’ piss. The Tour de France is, to paraphrase the great commentators Roy & HG, a joke. Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven wins, while Tour ‘winners’ Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador also had their wins rescinded. It’s now the Tour de Farce.

Melbourne Storm lost two Rugby League premierships for cooking the books, but no NRL team has lost a title for players cooking up speed. It’s a fantasy to think Rugby League, Union or AFL is ‘clean’ of illegal or prohibited drugs. As a League fan, it’s always a treat to see a player finish one season on the wing and return a few months later as a pimply faced forward.

There is an alternative to the way we address drugs. 

If a drug is injurious to your health, then it should be banned. If it can be safely taken and the side-effects are acceptable, then athletes (and the general public) should be allowed to take it. Steroids, EPO and hard drugs – like methylamphetamine and cocaine – are obviously dangerous, as are horse tranquilizers and certain sleeping tablets; but what possible advantage to the ‘level playing field’ is there if a sportsperson smokes a joint after a match, or takes a recreational drug during the off-season. 

Alcohol and cigarettes are dangerous to our health and, when used in certain quantities, they can kill. Both are legal. So too is caffeine, which can also be a dangerous drug. I see young kids on their way to school chugging back Red Bull’s and other drinks laced with ‘energy’, but this isn’t performance enhancing, so they say.

And, really, where is the logic when I can get pissed, drink 50 soy lattés and smoke a pack of a no-brand cigarettes while playing a round of golf with no one questioning the legality of this.

I may even play better than my current sober form. 

I cannot see how the prohibition on ‘drugs’ in sport can be justified while alcohol, junk food and gambling are promoted, pushed and advertised at every sporting event and broadcast. If drugs are bad for athletes and kiddies, then so too is alcohol, hormone riddled chicken coated in secret oils and fats and unlimited betting. 

I cannot see how removing drugs in sport will make for ‘pure performances’ when we see a Russian ice-skater fall over at Sochi and still receive gold.

How ‘pure’ will the Qatar FIFA World Cup be, or do we excuse the many deaths and injuries of migrant construction workers as unrelated to the wholesomeness of the sport? When I learnt that Australia paid tens of millions to secure a single World Cup, I wondered just who is taking the drugs in sport — the players or the corrupt administrators?  

Sport is corrupt at so many levels, the dog-chasing-its-tail of catching drug ‘cheats’ seems somewhat ludicrous.

As someone in the sports world said to me, they can’t keep drugs out of maximum security prisons, yet they think they can keep them out of sport?

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