May 14, 2013
Drug Use by Role Models is Ruinous
When president Dwight Eisenhower introduced the Space Act in 1958 it led to the creation of NASA. One of the organisation’s intended consequences was that all people should benefit from its research and innovation. So what was designed and created for Neil, Buzz and co is now de rigueur for Tom, Dick and Harry. Think of the aural thermometer, designed to detect temperatures of planets and stars through infra-red rays, or mechanisms of water purification. Both were derived from the pointy end of rocket research as initiatives of the space program. Likewise innovation and advancements are pioneered at the pointy end of sport and filter down to enhance the technology and tools of the trade at entry level. These days bats used by an average 12-year-old cricketer may be better than any used by Bradman and boots, even though the kids grow out of them just as quickly, are lighter, stronger and more dashing than ever. But despite the positive influences, there are often unintended consequences as to what actually infiltrates community sport. Just over a week ago some disturbing “unintended consequences” of elite behaviour in sport emerged when two schoolboys from a private school in Brisbane were expelled for possession of steroids. It doesn’t get much more disturbing than this: schoolboys, the ultimate embodiment of potential, a parent’s pride, a grandparent’s joy, following the lead of professional sport. Granted, it’s not the intended example of sport. But it is an easily concluded logical extension by impressionable teenagers to the fine line some sports have trod of late. Understandably there is frustration within sport about the Australian Sports Commission and Australian Crime Commission’s February press conference and investigation – and the seemingly inconsequential activity since then. While we would hope ASC and ACC were acronyms that never appeared in the same sentence, when steroids find their way to a school yard I’m prepared to cut some slack.
AdvertisementAthletes and administrators are fallible angels and it might seem harsh to expect them to be any more pure than those from other walks of life. Further, in the quest for supreme performance, it is to be expected that fine lines will be trod. But fine as they are, there must still be a line. A line that might be tested and adjusted over time, but adjusted formally through appropriate and thorough measures not by the ad hoc means of those administrators, athletes and trainers who at times recklessly lead ambitious, personal crusades. Harsh as it might seem, elite sport must judge itself by a higher standard than that by which society judges itself. And this is made even more difficult when you consider some conundrums it confronts: Such as sponsorship – whose money should and shouldn’t sport take? Performance – where do you draw the line in the pursuit of perfection? And celebrity – some personalities are bigger, have more means and are more influential than the sport itself. It is too simplistic to ban supplements or alcohol and gambling’s sponsorship of sport. But, if we allow them inside the tent, we must be aware of the consequences, for just as peptides may lead to steroids, the others can lead to addiction or antisocial behaviour. Perhaps it should not be so much a question of what to ban as what to promote and that starts with modelling the right behaviours. In the case of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigations, particularly of AFL club Essendon and NRL club Cronulla, the horse has bolted, so the administrations must leave no stones unturned in bringing out their dead before starting with a clean slate. I feel for the athletes. Whatever they have taken, it seems to have been prescribed by those who have been entrusted to look after them. As an athlete you don’t double guess your doctor or your conditioner, you assume they know what’s appropriate and have your best interests at heart. Yet as much as sport and its stars inspire positively, there will always be impressionable fans who skew to the negative. So I suspect there could be more bad news before there is good news. While we cannot hope for perfect examples at every turn in sport, there is more to be done to ensure a safe and fair field of play in all sports. There are a few matters on which all sports should unite and this is one. And the quicker it is cleaned up, the better. We at least owe that legacy to the next generation. John Eales is a director of Australian Rugby Union but the views expressed in this article are his and not necessarily representative of the ARU.