A very worrying report by the Australian Crime Commission was released today. The document details extensive doping in Australian sport and comes after a year-long investigation by the ACC. The investigation found that not only is doping and other illicit drug use prevalent in Australian sport, but that it has been in some cases, allegedly aided and abetted by team officials. Perhaps the most worrying part is that criminal networks are actively pushing the importation of the illegal substances. Further, it is also alleged in the report that new drugs, not yet approved for human consumption, also form a part of the problem.
No longer as Australians can we say that we are a clean nation when it comes to doping in sport. It appears that as a nation we have buried our collective heads in the sand, not wanting to believe that our sporting heroes could possibly be engaged in the consumption of illegal substances. There have of course been a number of what appeared at the time to be rather isolated incidents to date.
Now, however, we know that the taking of illicit substances is a much bigger problem. We just do not know which individuals, which teams and which sports will be the most heavily impacted by today’s disturbing revelations.
What makes today’s very public pronouncement so problematic, aside from the abuse of illegal substances, is that sport is so entrenched in Australian culture. Our sports’ heroes are treated as godlike by an adoring public. Sport is the most attended, most watched cultural event on the Australian calendar. Surely some of that deification, that praise and worshiping will subside, at least until we discover exactly which sports are the main culprits. That may translate into lower attendances at sporting events too.
Our political leaders involved in sport and in crime prevention joined together today with the heads of some of the major sporting codes in Australia to show a united front. It was a show of force to publicly say that the status quo cannot continue – that something substantial has to be done to tackle the use of illicit substances and prevent widespread doping.
When considering the fact that there is a concern about the use of drugs not yet deemed fit for human consumption, and to some extent those already on the banned substances list – a beefing up of Customs’ examination of cargo is a good start, but by no means a panacea.Getting them approved for usage or put on the banned substances list for sports is also of the utmost importance. But cracking down on this area of drug use will probably prove the hardest task of all, aside from the government doing what it can to prevent the dissemination of these substances.
Naivety must not be tolerated as an excuse by athletes, for doping especially, but even more so for recreational drugs. In terms of the former, athletes are constantly warned to check if a particular drug is on the banned substances list. They are told if they are in any doubt about using a drug, then they should not use that particular product.
The revelations today point to that fact that drug testing may not be as widespread as we were made to believe. Or perhaps that it needs to be more widespread. Sure, testing will not be able to identify all performance enhancing substances, especially in the case of new drugs not yet available in the legal market, but there’s clearly shortfalls here and that is a shame. A big part of improving the testing regime will be trying to keep up on the testing front, with the array of substances available in the market, legally or otherwise. Perhaps a nationally aligned regime of testing and penalties across all professional sports is required.
Obviously drug use in sport will always be a problem, regardless of the amount of resources devoted to trying to stamp it out. But all that can be done simply has to be tried to minimise the damage done to what is truly a national cultural pastime – enjoying sport.