Every single club in the NRL is looking for some type of edge. That is what makes the competition so good.
The NRL is like the Formula One of the sport. All the new innovations and ideas first show up in the NRL and over years they filter down through the rest of the sport.
Most of the time, that is a good thing. Sometimes it see’s teams pushing the boundaries though and the fine line between was is allowed under the rules of the game, and what isn’t….that sometimes gets lost in the pursuit of excellence.
We saw with the Melbourne Storms recent salary cap scandal that sometimes clubs go too far. They push the edge of the rules, and then look for loop holes, and then sometimes even look for ways around the rules. The worst thing is that going to these extremes usually pays off. The Storm achieved incredible results because of they found ways around the salary cap.
Now we are looking at similar issues when it comes to the used of substances used to enhance performance and aid in the recovery of injuries. For me, there are two different ways we need to look at this issue.
As sports science advanced the NRL did a pretty good job of keeping an eye on clubs and what they were getting up to. When they got word of something that seemed to be over the top, they put and end to it. Even if they heard of something that was within the rules, but not the best look for the game, the NRL would ban it. It is hard to keep up to speed with what is going on behind closed doors though.
If you are a player at a club and a club doctor tells you to take something, you should have every confidence that that substance will not lead to a positive drugs test. A club doctor should never give a player any substance that is not on the approved list of drugs or substances that can be used. Unfortunately over the years there have been a few cases of clubs doctors giving players substances that are banned.
In that situation, I can’t blame the player. I understand that some people would say “A player should know what is going into his body” but at the same time, the person he should be able to trust above anyone else to give him the best advice on what is an illegal substance is the club doctor.
In that situation, it becomes a breakdown of the system and the player is the victim.
The other situation you have is when a player takes it upon themselves to look for an advantage and starts taking substances to improve performance without the knowledge of the club. In that instance there is not a great deal you can do. If an individual wants to take Performance Enhancing Drugs, they are going to take them. You just have to hope that either through drug testing or a whistle blower that they get exposed, and banned.
Going back to the clubs, I think the NRL needs to take this as an opportunity to be proactive. They need to release a list of supplements that are legal and inform clubs that they should only use products from this set list. They should make clubs have to submit any new substances to the league to get league approval before they are used.
This would mean that anything a club doctor gave to a player, both the club doctor and the player would know that this substance has been approved for used in the NRL.
That might put the brakes on clubs looking for an edge over their rivals through sports science, but I tend to think that right now, that is a good thing.
If the NRL took more control over the way clubs apply sports science to their sides and coupled that with blood testing and an increased number of tests, I think that would be a brilliant response to what we are seeing going on in Australian sport right now.
We might even get to the point where blood testing during half time becomes common. I don’t think anything should be ruled out in the fight against performance enhancing drugs.
I’m very interested to see how the NRL and clubs respond to the findings of ASADA and the Australian Federal Police. So far they have visited a few different clubs and will probably visit every club by the time this is all said and done. Right now it seems to look like this is all revolving around one person. We could see that change though.
Right now we just have to wait and see. At the end of the day I’ve always said that probes into the use of performance enhancing drugs is a good thing. You don’t find drug cheats by not looking for them.