Overkill Or Honest Study?

The question of drugs in sport is taking on a bizarre look. As we pointed out on 29 July – It’s Not a Secret, So Let’s Tell Everybody – “Human and veterinary science has also been developing rapidly, with commercial outfits all seeking an edge, so exotic combinations are the order of the day. And what they add to muscle mass – is that good or bad? Their impacts are uncertain and debatable in respect to performance, as a couple of football clubs are finding out at the moment”.

We are none the wiser about goings on at Essendon Football Club, other than that after months of hassles no players have been pinged for taking banned drugs. Four club officials have been told to front the AFL Commission, yet as pointed out by author Michael Sexton (The Australian, 16 Aug), failures by officials are “of no obvious concern of ASADA” as their brief is to keep track of players alone.

At the moment, it has all the hallmarks of ASADA and the AFL hierarchy trying to justify their existence, while the rights of individuals are under some strain. Time will tell.

The only reason any of this could happen at all is because the AFL and ARL accepted the ASADA supervision, mostly because a rejection would result in loss of Commonwealth funds. Legal blackmail, that is, albeit for a nominally good cause. Otherwise, Canberra has no constitutional power over sporting activities, including racing. (Remember that a few years ago big raceclubs and state racing authorities were frantically asking the Feds to stop online bookies and betting exchanges using the internet to take bets, however the consultants who conducted an inquiry and the (Coalition) government said it had no such power).

Both football organisations already had in-house systems which could also have done the job. Indeed, the fact that ASADA has so far found no problems indicates those systems must have been doing reasonably.

The debate over whether the drug AOD-9604 was banned or not at the time is still not finished, nor is there any indication of its helpfulness to a footballer, or any sportsman. ASADA has now banned it (reasons uncertain), but the club doctor says he would not have used it anyway, except in very special medical circumstances for an injured player. Apparently, ASADA would stop that, too.

In any event, the power of ASADA is extraordinary, even questionable. It has big brother overtones. As Sexton says, “legislative changes allow ASADA to require a person to provide documents or face a fine of $5,100 … even if it would incriminate the person producing it. ASADA can also require a person to attend an interview, with the same penalty for a refusal to answer. It would not, of course, be possible to apply this kind of regime to a person charged with a serious criminal offence”. All of which looks like overkill, particularly by the politicians who created that power in the first place.

For comparison, Sexton quotes the case in the US where “the investigation that ended with suspensions being handed down to some of baseball’s most famous players was conducted entirely by Major League Baseball”. And, in the US, baseball is part of the national culture, far more so than any code of football in this country. Congress looked into the issue but decided not to act.

Whatever the football outcomes, all we know so far is that no-one is very sure what drug has what effect, which is pretty much what we pointed out for greyhounds. It’s also worth noting that the US has a significantly different attitude to some drugs used on horses or dogs, compared to those applying in Australia. Who is right and who is wrong?

Well, there is one other thing. Whatever the outcome, the original grandstanding by two Commonwealth Ministers and the Australian Crime Commission was grossly overdone, perhaps even wrong, on the evidence provided so far. There has not been the slightest hint of a crime being committed, nor has anyone, including the Essendon officials, been charged with a drug offence, so what got the ACC interested in the first place? The whole investigation seems to have been based on scanty knowledge of the effects or existence of the drugs concerned. That’s the sort of caper that the police get involved in every day, but they never proceed further without good evidence. It was hardly worth the massive press and TV coverage.

Frankly, whatever happens next, it warrants an investigation into the investigation.

Still, at least we will end up knowing a bit more about modern drugs which might help clarify the way greyhound administrations handle the subject in future.

MORE THAN JUST A NAME

What a joy it was to see GRV Chairman, Peter Caillard, describe the upcoming events at The Meadows as a “State of Origin” contest. Of course it is. The National “Championships” have never been that at all as many of the best in the country are left behind in order to give spots to inferior competitors. It’s high time the name was changed.

Here’s the question. Do the Championships resonate with the players and the public? It’s important, of course, and the smaller states welcome the opportunity of taking part, even if they rarely do any good. But it hardly ranks with the Melbourne Cup or the Easter Egg and perhaps others. That’s what the industry says through its actions, including the relatively modest prize money it offers. Therefore, if it is not at the top it should not be called a championship, any more than useful gallopers should be called champions, as happens all too frequently.

But does greyhound racing have a culture? A good one, that is. Certainly, participants would feel it does, as their lives depend on it. Me, too. But I don’t think we are rating with the public, except negatively on occasions. That needs attention.

State of Origin has enjoyed a mixed history. It used to be strong in state cricket, just as district cricket membership once depended on your residential address, but that has largely fizzled now. Despite its ups and downs, only Test cricket really touches a nerve these days. 20/20 matches are an entertainment option but not really part of cricket culture. Horse racing does benefit from the betting culture because it has long been part of the Australian way of life and people admire horses. The AFL tried SoO a few times but it never worked for them. Fans were too attached to their clubs and players’ enthusiasm was variable, particularly at the end of a gruelling season. Only the ARL’s NSW v Queensland contest has succeeded and then how! It pulls in huge numbers of viewers everywhere, including from overseas, and even does well when they play the odd game in Melbourne. To the players and the fans, it’s a critical part of the culture, a genuine championship.

The staging of peak greyhound events and day to day promotion should be directed to building that culture. The public are not going to come to us, we have to take it to them. Do that and the rest becomes much easier.