When it comes to handing out doping bans in sport you basically have to strike while the iron is hot. If you wait too long, if you take too many years to get around to banning someone, it loses all of it’s effectiveness.
The ASADA investigation into the use of illegal substances by a couple of Australian sports teams feels like it has gone on forever. For the Cronulla Sharks, their alleged breaches happened in 2011.
Since 2011 many players have left the Cronulla Sharks. A number of them have retired. A lot of the staff that were at the club at that time are gone. The board that was in charge of the club back in 2011 is gone.
Basically, by the time ASADA gets around to banning anyone that was allegedly involved in the use of ban substances at the Cronulla Sharks it will be way too late for a ban to actually mean anything.
Let’s look at this from the point of view that ASADA has unequivocal evidence that the Cronulla Sharks were guilty of using performance enhancing substances in 2011 for just a moment. Since 2011, how much money have players and the coach made out of professional Rugby League in the time between using the substances and when any ban comes around?
Even if ASADA handed out bans tomorrow, we are talking about over a dozen players and millions of dollars that have been earned AFTER any alleged use of performance enhancing substances and BEFORE any ban!
At this point when ASADA finally names everyone it wants to hand bans to half of them will get a reaction of “Oh yeah, he used to play for the Sharks back in the day!”. It is ridiculous!
The best example of waiting to long to ban an athlete is Lance Armstrong.
I have watched the Tour de France ever since I was a teenager. Thanks to my legendary sleeping habits that were established during the 1994 Kangaroo Tour I am up until all hours of the night with not much to watch on TV, so I would watch the Tour de France every singe year.
I knew many of the competitors were using drugs. The top guy were special, they must have had the really good drugs (And it has proven nearly every single one of them did!). Then along came Lance Armstrong, off his deathbed..
Armstrong started to decimate the competition. At first it was a shock. Then you just knew he must have been full of everything he could possibly take. It was blatant!
Remember when the Melbourne Storm kept so many great players together and we all thought they were taking less money to stick together and win everything? Then we found out that no, they were rortng the salary cap and it seemed pretty obvious in hindsight? Imagine if the Storm had done that to the point of winning 7 Premierships in a row.
That was the unbelievably obvious level that Lance Armstrong was doping at!
Armstrong eventually got banned for cycling but only when everyone had got what they needed from him and his career was all but over anyway. Yeah, they got him eventually, but did it really matter in the end?
By the time Armstrong was banned he had won SEVEN Tour de France titles, was one of the highest profile athletes on earth, and had career earnings counted in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
I would bet that even today, a disgraced Lance Armstrong’s personal wealth is rising at a faster rate than any of the top cyclists in the world. Doping authorities simply took too long for any ban to mean anything to him or to cycling.
That is where we stand right now in Rugby League with ASADA.
To ban anyone at this point for something that happened back in 2011 will mean very little at all. The sport itself will feel no impact at all. What difference does it make to your club that a team in 2011 that was allegedly breaking the rules is going to get punished in the near future? None! How much of an impact did it make on your club when the Melbourne Storm were strip of their titles they won by breaking the salary cap? None! Not even to the teams they beat in winning those titles!
So after a handful of years, a bunch of retirements, millions of dollars in earnings, and around a hundred or so first grade appearances since then and now…what will any bans mean to anyone in the game of Rugby League when ASADA finally gets around to handing them out?
If bans are supposed to be the deterrent for players and clubs to avoid doping, ASADA has failed. Too much time has past and too much money has been made. Careers have been built and careers have ended. Right now ASADA isn’t looking at an effective ban on dopers, it is working on a footnote in history. One that no future club or player that is thinking of taking a performance enhancing substance will even take notice of.
ASADA has taken too long. Anything that happens from this point on means very little in the fight against the use of performance enhancing substances.