Why sporting bodies can’t manage drug use ‘in house’

Last night on a national network’s news bulletin, was an interview with AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, discussing the use of illicit drugs amongst AFL players. The focus of the piece was on the use of illegal drugs such as speed, cocaine and ecstasy and naturally made reference to fallen hero Ben Cousins, the AFL’s most famous or infamous drug taker.

What struck me about this piece was not so much the content per se, but what I perceive to be the same attitude amongst the AFL hierarchy that the UCI demonstrated throughout the dark years of rampant drug taking in the peloton.

There is one of two ways to look at this report. It can be argued that Demetriou sat through the interview, almost like a scary father figure and warned the current players that they will be caught if they take recreational drugs and, if so, they face very severe punishment. The other way to view this story, is that the message is not at all for the players, who let’s be honest, probably aren’t watching, but rather it’s a carefully planned piece of PR to assure supporters and sponsors that drugs are not tolerated in the AFL. Interestingly, the story did not touch on performance enhancing drugs as I assume the AFL is keen to maintain the persona that they do not exist in their sport.

The timing of this report is interesting as velonation.com yesterday printed a report alleging the former President of the UCI, Hein Verbruggen and other top UCI officials ‘warned’ riders of inconsistencies in their blood values. This is utterly amazing and only serves to highlight the conflict of interests within the UCI. It’s hard to believe that any sporting official would consider this course of action, let alone doing it as velonation.com alleges.

This now leads me to my point about Demetriou and his sprucing of the AFL’s zero tolerance to drugs stance and that is that no sporting organization can adequately police illicit drug use amongst its competitors. It doesn’t matter that the report on yesterday’s news talked about recreational drugs, it still talked about illegal drugs. I also want to be clear that I am not suggesting Demetriou or the AFL have or would act in a similar manner to the accusations thrown at the UCI.

What I am concerned about is the idea that sporting bodies can police themselves in a world where sport is big business. Sporting administrators have too many potential or perceived conflicts of interest. Surely, this is the biggest lesson to be gotten from the Lance Armstrong doping culture that pervaded the professional peloton for so long.

The use of recreational drugs does need to be tackled by the AFL in that they need to look at the culture of their sport, the clubs and get to just why healthy, fit young men who should be role models for healthy living are choosing drugs. The problem is, that we have seen through the alleged actions of the UCI, that sporting bodies cannot always govern themselves, especially when money is such a driving force in modern sport.

Drug enforcement in any sport needs to be policed by an independent body. This is in the best interest of the sport, players, fans and sponsors. What we need most of all is to believe that those who evade the rules of fair play are caught and dealt with appropriately. Over the years there have been too many suggestions that AFL players have broken the law and behaved disreputably, avoiding punishments for off field indiscretions and this in part makes it hard to believe that the AFL is equipped to police drug taking in the sport.

Irrespective of if we are talking about illegal recreational drugs or performance enhancing drugs it is imperative that any drug testing is done by independent bodies.

Published on www.theroar.com.au 24/1/13

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