I have held back from commenting on the investigations by the Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority and Australian Crime Commission because up until now, there were not a lot of facts to go on. I simply didn’t want to say anything about the investigation until we knew more about what was going on.
Now, I feel like the time is right to have my say…
The Story So Far
Over the years my stance against drug cheats has been unwavering. You just need to look through this web site to see, I believe that there is no place for drug cheats in any sport.
Over the last two months all sport across Australia has been tarred with the same brush. The Australian Government, the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority alleged that there was wide spread drug use throughout Australian sport. They alleged that match fixing and organised crime had infiltrated sport in this country and they vowed to put an end to all of it.
For a while, things went quiet. There was little information coming out. Right now, ASADA’s investigation seemed to be focus on one individual that worked at a number of NRL and AFL clubs. All of the investigations that are happening involving Rugby League involve some association with this individual.
Looking For The Edge Over Rivals
The nature of the NRL is that everyone pushed the envelope in as many areas as possible. It is what drives the improvement of the game on and off the field.
If a team employs an individual to improve player performance through legal means and that individual does what they are employed to do…have they really done anything wrong?
The peptides in question were legal at one point. Eventually, ASADA banned them as they tried their best to catch up with the sports scientists.
The line between what is and is not legal in sports in always moving. In some areas, the line is very grey. High levels of caffeine can see you banned from sport, but if you have a Red Bull before a game, you should be alright. Some substances that are legal today may not be legal this time next year. On top of all of this, people are trying new substances all the time to see if they can get some sort of athletic edge from them.
There are people that drink their own urine in the belief that it improve their performance. We need to accept that somewhere out there, people are willing to experience with anything at all to get an edge.
The Game Has A Duty Of Care Towards Players
There are a number of areas in which the game of Rugby League has a duty of care towards players. Over the years we have seen this improve many areas of the game including the medical treatment available to them, training for post football careers, insurance of their contracts in case clubs go bust, even things like drinks breaks during games when the humidity reaches a certain level.
In many ways, players need to be looked after. The game needs to make sure players are not exploited and then discarded.
That duty of care that the game has towards players is very important right now. The reason it is important is that, players should be able to expect that their club will not breach that duty of care towards many areas of their well being, including their health.
Players Must Be Able To Trust Their Own Club Above All Else
The number one person that every player in the NRL should be able to trust with substances that are put into their body is the clubs doctor. A club doctor, as all as any medical staff employed by an NRL club, should be up to date on what is and is not legal to use.
There are millions of substances out there a player can use, and all players are given a phone number they can call to ask if a medicine is legal to use. Players call this number and trust the information they are given. The same sort of level of trust is given to a clubs medical staff.
You have to remember that players are just players. The reason clubs employ medical staff is because players need guidance, they need their health looked after by trained professionals. It is completely reasonable that any player would expect their own clubs medical staff would never jeopardize their career by allowing them to use, or allegedly giving them an illegal substance to use.
Many Players Are Unwitting Victims
Eventually we will start hearing how many players have been involved in ASADA’s investigation. What needs to be remembered is that the charges will not be the same for all players that have found themselves involved in this scandal.
The vast majority of players were allegedly administered substances by the club they played for. They trusted the clubs medical staff to only provide them with legal substances. ASADA has alleged that the medical staff at some clubs have administered illegal substances to players….and in that case, you have to feel very sorry for those players.
We are going to see some players cop bans from the game through no fault of their own. They will be banned for trusting their own clubs medical staff.
Some Players Allegedly Knew What They Were Doing
It has been alleged that a small minority of individual players went beyond their club and sought treatments which were banned under ASADA rules. They knew what they were doing. It has been relayed to me that there are individuals that will be banned from professional sport for life when this is all said and done. This small group, they deserves those bans.
I don’t really need to go into any more detail than that. Unlike the previous group, I consider these peoples to be drug cheats.
A Club Looking To Pick Up The Pieces
The Cronulla Sharks have always struggled to survive. They have produced great players, they have enjoyed long periods of success, but off the field the club has always had money issues. The club has survived due to the hard works and dedication of people behind the scenes who made sure that the club ran as efficiently as possible.
This season the club has no major sponsor and no stadium sponsor. They are awaiting payment from a large development on club owned land that will inject money into the club and pay off its debts. Still, that sort of thing takes time to turn into money in the bank, and the club went into this season with high hopes and a bright future ahead of it.
Now, the clubs has been forced to clean up a mess.
With ASADA’s investigation running alongside a investigation by the clubs itself into the conduct of individuals, we have seen the Sharks board make the decision to sack a number of their own football staff and stand down the coach Shane Flanagan.
The board has alleged that issues surrounding the use of different substances were not told to the board. Concerns were basically kept within the football staff.
When you consider the scope of ASADA’s investigation and the impact on the club that it will have, the position of individuals that are alleged by the Sharks board to have kept things quiet is untenable. You simply can not have sections of any club working independently as has been alleged in this instance.
The ASADA investigation demands complete transparency. Nothing less can be accepted, no matter how damaging it is to the club.
if the Sharks board felt like that level of transparency was not there with members of the football club staff, they had no other choice than to make the decisions they have made.
The Support Of The NRL
The National Rugby League has been very supportive of the Sharks behind the scenes. They have offered assistance to the club in a number of ways.
We have seen the NRL appoint Bruno Cullen as caretaker CEO of the Sharks. There have been other administrators parachuted in by the NRL to help try and give the Sharks some help in picking up the pieces and trying to get the club right financially. This is great news and shows the NRL is looking to be proactive when they think there might be an issue with a club
The Sharks are going to face some tough times ahead. Without the support the NRL is now giving the club, there would be concerns about their future. As it is, hopefully the assistance will be able to get the club through the dark times they now face.
Relocating The Sharks
Normally I would write off talk of relocating the Sharks but with the NRL’s new CEO David Smith recently flagging the need to expand to a national competition, and with his pure business background, I don’t think the Sharks being forced to relocate is entirely out of the question. It would be a last resort, but if it gets to a point where the NRL decides that the club simply can not survive in the crowded Sydney market any more, it wouldn’t surprise me if the NRL looked to relocate the club.
Some people have tossed up Perth. I tend to think what we would see is the Sharks moved to Brisbane, simply because they’d be able to drop them straight into Suncorp Stadium, have NRL played in Brisbane every weekend, give broadcasters a second Brisbane team, and the club could draw on the massive resources that the area has in terms of players, sponsors and potential fans. It would be the “home run” move that would assure the Sharks of success on and off the field.
With Perth, the WARL have said they would be happy to receive a relocated team, however they have said their preference is to have the West Coast Pirates expansion bid getting an NRL licence. You also have to question how the Perth market would receive a relocated Sydney club that has just been torn apart by various scandals. Not the ideal start for an expansion club.
There Will Be More Clubs That Will Be Drawn Into This
Aside from medical staff that have moved between clubs, players have also moved from clubs that are at the center of ASADA’s investigation to clubs all over the competition. Some players that have not played for certain clubs for years could find themselves facing a ban because they unwittingly were given illegal substances.
Some clubs will find they have one or two players that ASADA will want to deal with. Other clubs will find they have much bigger issues to face. There is talk that one club could lose Premierships over this ASADA investigation and that brings me to my next point.
There Needs To Be A League Wide Approach To How This Is Delt With
Players that ASADA has evidence against are going to get banned. Whether they were allegedly given illegal substances without their knowledge, or whether they sought them out knowing they were illegal, they will be banned from playing the game from between 6 months to 2 years, and some for life.
The number of players this effects right now is unknown. If this scandal ends up being across half a dozen clubs, we could see the number of players banned being well over 50. That is a large chunk of the NRL’s competition.
Any banned players can be replaced by Under 20 players and NSW and QLD Cup players. Depth thankfully works in the NRL’s favour in that respect. However the salary cap implications these type of replacements will have will need to be worked out. Decisions may need to be made on whether previous Premierships are stripped of teams or not. What will happen to the contracts of players that get banned for unwitting use of illegal substances, and will they be judged any differently from other players who are alleged to have known what they were doing is wrong?
Will officials be banned? Will some officials simply be sacked on the direction of the NRL itself? At this stage we don’t know the scale of this investigation so we don’t know, and that is a major problem.
I feel like this situation needs a league wide approach to make sure we get a complete and satisfactory resolution to all of this. At the end of the day the NRL needs to be able to draw a line in the sand and say “This is what happened, this is who will be banned, these are the implications of those bans, and this is how we will move forward”.
Making Sure This Never Happens Again
I think when we know the complete scope of what has happened we will see major changes in the way clubs run certain aspects of their football operations.
We may see changes to the way medical staff are accredited by the NRL. We may see independent medical officials sent to clubs to oversee things. We may see the league move to a list of pre approved substances that teams can use, and any new substance a team wants to use would then need to be approved by the league and ASADA itself.
The NRL will already know how they want all of this to play out. You just have to hope that there are safeguards put in place so that this can never happen again.
A Sad State Of Affairs
When an individual is found to be a drug cheat, I embrace it. When drug cheats are found, its always a good thing.
I think case, for the most part, its is alleged that people within the game has really let a lot of players down. To me, this all points to issues with administration rather than players looking to cheat.
I feel very sad for the Cronulla Sharks club and their fans. This was meant to be a huge season for them and it looks like it will all be ruined. I hope the club can get through all of this and come out the other side stronger for what they have been through. We have seen with the Melbourne Storm, it is possible. Fans just need to stick by the club.
As for the rest of us, we should all prepare for players in out own clubs to be drawn into this. Some clubs will have bigger issues than other, but many of you reading this right now will find you club is touched by the ASADA investigation.
After all of this is over, hopefully the game is stronger for it. The good thing is, Rugby League is a sport that will face its demons head on. When this is all over, we will know we have the cleanest sport in the world.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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