The rush to "mobocracy" on drugs

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Drugs in sport is no doubt a serious issue but when it comes to the recent ASADA inquiry there appears to have been a rush to judgement. Whistleblower Dr. Kim Sawyer explains.

(Image via mcsixtyfive.com.au)
(Image via mcsixtyfive.com.au)

AS A WHISTLEBLOWER myself, I know about targeting.

Whistleblowers are easy targets. They are not victims. They are targets. Targeting is the act of the bully who has the freedom to kick. There have been a number of free kicks this year. I never thought my whistleblowing interests and my football interests would converge. They have, for I'm an Essendon supporter.

In February, there was a press conference that presaged an Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) inquiry into the supplements program at Essendon in 2012. Like all football supporters – Essendon and non-Essendon alike – I was dismayed. Drugs in sport were the province of Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones and other declared drug cheats. But not in my back yard. Not in my football team.

Before these events, I had never heard of terms like AOD 9604, of categories S2, S1 an S0. I had no knowledge of the regulators ASADA or World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). I now also have a greater understanding of our sports regulators and their failings.

I acknowledge that injections are not a "good look", as has become the vernacular of this controversy. No one seems to have a problem with pain killing injections, because they are performance enabling rather than performance enhancing. I do however have a problem when an athlete tests the boundaries in order to improve their competitiveness. We have an extraordinary zero tolerance of drug cheats, because sport should be pure. We will tolerate a white collar criminal as our near zero prosecutions of corporate malfeasance demonstrate. But don’t infect sport. Sportspeople must be pure. So many commentators have returned to the twin refrains of zero tolerance and ignorance is no excuse. But –of course – not for themselves.

That has been the problem for me. I look at the commentators and I imagine how they night have erred at points in their lives. Were they subjected to the refrains of zero tolerance and ignorance is no excuse? My whistleblowing was born from a principle of natural fairness. Whistleblowing is not an easy issue. It cannot be taught in a textbook, or by consulting an ethicist. No, it is too important for that.

Nothing is black and white in whistleblowing. A real whistleblower has to weigh up all types of considerations; but ultimately it comes down to natural fairness.  What I have seen since February is the unfairness I have advocated against most of my life.

The game of AFL is no longer a game. It is no longer just for fun. No longer about the spoils of winning and the pain of losing. The tribalism of football has entered an area which goes far beyond football. Tribalism is acceptable within the football ground and the inevitable banter that follows. It is not acceptable when it enters a quasi-judicial process. Tribalism in a quasi-judicial process subverts the rule of law. Whatever happened to the principles which underscore our civilization: preponderance of evidence and innocence until proven guilty?

James Hird's Essendon Bombers find themselves at the centre of the storm. (Image via theage.com.au)

Apparently, those principles are irrelevant because this is between us and them. The rule of the mob has overruled the rule of law. It was Abraham Lincoln who warned against mobocracy. He knew the risks. He saw the lynch mobs first hand. Today those lynch mobs are in cyberspace, not on the streets.

The unfairness has been most pronounced in the media. We have sports journalists looking for their "deep throat", being rewarded not only for a scoop but a scalp. We have journalists who had previously distinguished themselves for their patient investigative work now motivated by the need to join the feeding frenzy. We have sub-editors encouraged to provide headlines which conjure the most salacious interpretation.

Almost certainly there will be a book, possibly a film about this scandal. Journalists may then reflect. For, if there is one thing this saga has shown, no longer can the media self-regulate. Who would have thought that Australia’s own version of McCarthyism would  begin with sports journalists writing about football?

The media clearly cannot self-regulate. If there is a story which will generate millions of clicks, they will run with it regardless of the propriety, the fairness, or the law suit which may follow. After all, the apology can always be buried on page 23.

The inquiry that was announced on February 5 was never going to be confidential. The media, and the individuals who leaked to the media ensured that. Those individuals who leaked are not real whistleblowers. Real whistleblowers provide credible information that is fully documented, not hearsay. Real whistleblowers provide evidence of material wrongdoing, not gossip. Real whistleblowers understand that a person who repeatedly states an intention for a program to be legal and code- compliant is not likely to be a miscreant. Real journalists should understand this. Real journalists also understand the unfairness when the other side is bound by confidentiality.

When the need to get a free kick overrules natural fairness we are all penalized. Mobocracy should never be allowed to replace the rule of law.

The outcome of the ASADA inquiry may eventually have to be decided in the courts, perhaps if only to teach the mobocracy why the rule of law is so important.

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