THE BIG ISSUE: #36

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

OVER the next few days and weeks, up to 50 NRL players have a big decision to make. It may well turn out to be the biggest of their lifetimes.

In Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald, ASADA chief Aurora Andruska said the only way athletes could be assured of having 75 per cent of their drugs suspension removed was to provide the agency with information that led to a charge against someone else.

Otherwise, players would have to prove they were unconscious when the banned substance was administered.

When columns like this appear in newspapers and magazines, there is a certain political correctness that is expected. We are not supposed to advocate doing “the wrong thing”.

If I was to write here that people sometimes people avoid tax by being paid in cash, or that occasionally parking illegally is worth the fine, or that we should be allowed to get drunk in pubs as long as we don’t hurt anyone, the wowsers would be down on me like a tonne of bricks.

So what I am expected to say now is that NRL players should ‘fess up to ASADA ASAP, telling the organisation everything they know – including the identities of team-mates who took drugs – because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s not to mention the fact it will save their own skin and career by dodging a two year ban.

But bugger the wowsers because advising people to do what you would not do yourself is hypocritical.

Stand-in Cronulla coach Peter Sharp said the ASADA drama was bigger than Super League because players weren’t threatened with being “outed” during that imbroglio.

While Super League was seen as being a period of unprecedented selfishness because of the money on offer, one thing that is forgotten is that most players stuck together during the war.

Clubs joined one side or another and their players, largely, followed. Sure, Cronulla’s Adam Ritson stuck with the ARL and Jim Dymock, Jarrod McCracken and Jason Smith were poached back from Super League.

But generally, our players were given “loyalty payments” on inducements to keep doing what they were already doing – aside from playing some forms of representative football which were suddenly closed off to them.

So Sharpy has a point in that, while the Super League War affected more people and threatened the very existence of our sport, the “ASADA Armada” is potentially a more decisive force.

To quote Brent Kite in RLW last week: “Giving blokes exemptions to roll over on other blokes – I don’t think that’s going to be very good for the game.”

The fact is, if you implicate a team-mate and cop a suspension for only six months, it’s going to be pretty obvious now, isn’t it? Before, you could have just “accepted a deal” from your club. Now ASADA are saying you can only get six months if you dob someone in.

If they get takers, will they just try to blur the line between the two again and refuse to say which of the two camps a player is in?

The Big Issue is all for eradicating cheats. But doping is not illegal in Australia. Yet the Australian Crime Commission – which has the word ‘crime’ in its name – has been sharing information it gained through law-enforcement with ASADA – who deal in offences that are not currently criminal in nature.

Morally, that might be OK. Probably is. But legally, constitutionally? Any lawyers out there? If you are drug tested at work, would it be OK for the testers to have access to your criminal or medical records?

Again, I stress that sport’s integrity relies completely on it being clean and we need to resource testers as well as we can – within the bounds of the law. But there are a few issues which have been overlooked.

So even though do-good columns in publications with roughly tabloid-sized pages are supposed to side with law-enforcement – and in this case quasi-law enforcement – officers at every turn, I can’t bring myself to do so.

Here’s what I would do if I was an NRL player who had been part of systematic doping – even if I didn’t think it was doping at the time – in my club:

I would get my own solicitor;

I would ring a few mates and try to source alternative employment for the next two years. Hopefully someone would be able to help with something;

I would call ASADA and confess to everything that involved me. If I thought the staff at the club had placed me in this horrible position, I might say which staff did what;

I would refuse to implicate any of my team-mates and even mention any names;

I would prepare for life after football.

.

THE quicker, cleaner rucks this year are giving us the opportunity to see the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk at their utter best.

Their battle on Saturday night was something to behold.

But is it also giving some teams the chance to completely work over others? 32-0, 36-0, 34-10 – they are not the scorelines dreams are made of.

No complaints. No blame. Just an observation.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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