Posts Tagged ‘drugs in sport’

Refs should be thanking the new fall guy in sport

It used to be that the sourest of sportsfolk would predictably turn their heads toward one minority at the end of a close loss. Or an embarrassing loss. Or a loss marred by controversy. Or a completely uncontroversial loss. Any loss, really.

I talk, of course, of the endgame barrages delivered to referees that have become both commonplace and complacently common. Ricky Stuart is one of many who have turned the blaming of referees for his side’s losses into an artform. Sure, it’s not as well expressed as a Tom Wolfe exposé, or as aesthetically dazzling as a Raphael, but it still forms a kind of guttural, mildly amusing art.

For a coach in the NRL, performing in this genre is easy. He simply must express his frustration to his club officials, week after week, at those interminable referees and their attempts to foil his side’s cheating. Then he must convince them that it’s worth 10,000 of their dollars (which surely could be better used in developing grass roots or some other ideal proffered as another of the many reasons his mighty game is losing the battle to AFL, or football, or ping pong) to let Ricky slag the refs after a particularly difficult game. Then Ricky Stuart hands a cheque to the NRL, paid in full by his club’s board, and gets a ‘fairer’ rub of the green for the next couple of games, as refs are scared that ol’ man Stuart is going to run after them with his musket if they don’t penalise the stuffing out of the other team.

But I’ve noticed that there haven’t been nearly as many articles about how clueless the referees are since the darkest day in Australian sport. Ever since ASADA has left their perch high above the Aussie sporting landscape and descended to the level of the daily sporting grind, they have become the new whipping boy for clueless columnists who want to create smoke where there are barely fire hazards, let alone a fire.

Every day we are exposed to one or another personality in the rugby league community break out the tar and brush analogy. Inevitably we then see another tired joke about Australia’s tar shortage. This leads to an article in response to the previous statement about how the investigation has to be over before we can give people the results, something people still don’t seem to get. Then we get a couple of hours of lull while there’s actual football on, then some idiot asks about ASADA again and we’re back to square one. This has been going on for two months now.

I must say it’s a lot more interesting than referee-slagging. The structural form of ASADA-bagging isn’t nearly as well defined and therefore is poorly constructed in comparison to the well-developed genre of bagging match officials. But we’re certainly getting to a point where people are blindly saying the same thing over and over again the public arena, heeding conventions no one knew existed three months ago. No one listens, but no one points out the ridiculousness of it all either.

Phil Gould is flip flopping on whether he likes ASADA more than a freshly caught fish deciding whether his left or right would be the better side to expire on. One day he understands completely that the investigation will take time, and that there is substance to these allegations. The next he’s columnising about how those up in their ivory towers (no doubt just as pompous, arrogant and disrespectful as those darned referees were) are just sticking their noses into the ‘Greatest game of all’ to have their moment in the sun.

ASADA, by giving themselves the exposure they have, have hampered their cause if anything. But consider this: when that announcement was made, with Jason Clare and Kate Lundy and Andrew Demetriou and Benji Barba, and they told everyone they were hot on the heels of a bunch of people who were cheating by using performance-enhancing drugs, do you think that clubs that did have an institutionalised illegal doping program (that is if there were any) would have continued on their merry way? Or do you maybe think that the announcement on that dark, black, opaquely noir day for sport would have prompted clubs to undergo a thorough cleaning out of the draws as well as a disposing of their programs, at least while the investigation is ongoing.

If there were clubs doping, I wager they would have stopped. The cleaning out of the cupboards bit is why the investigation is taking so long. I’m sure everyone involved would have been told to zip it if they were part of a club that had been cheating.

But I will say to those who continue to rant about how unfair all this is: they wouldn’t have announced anything if there was nothing to announce. Cooperation is extremely unlikely. We have a case in point down on the Sutherland Shire, where folks still seem to think it’s ok to turn up to a legally binding meeting in trackies and thongs.

And just as you had to get used to referees making mistakes, you’re just going to have to get used to this ASADA thing.

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Sharks being circled? What’s next, Bulldogs’ heels being nipped?

In what is an irony spotter’s dream, everyone in the rugby league community is now circling the Sharks.

While it was previously the domain of the finned, cartilege-laden predator to swarm around its prey, circling them with demonic intent before rudely removing a digit or limb from their chosen victim, nature has found a way to turn it around on them this time. That’s right, finally the shark has become the hunted.

In a further sprinkling of irony, all this turning around of nature has been achieved through the most unnatural of means: using drugs to improve on nature. Confusing, isn’t it?

Shark victims and prospective shark victims aside, not many can be all too pleased by this news of Sharks being hunted, as it confirms the presence and widespread use of illegal drugs in the NRL. Not only have fourteen players been implicated, but it came to light on Fox Sports today that they’ve even been offered a year extra on their contract plus full pay so they don’t sue the club.

What does that tell us? Are the club trying to pay off players for something that was ostensibly the club’s fault? Did the Sharkies, knowingly and willingly, flaunt the drug code to gain an unfair advantage? I’m sure there are a number of reasons why you would offer your players those sort of incentives not to sue you. But you know what, for all those reasons I suppose that there are, I can’t think of any other myself. Maybe you can give me another explanation? Try the comments section below if you have any bright ideas.

All I know is that it’s a really bad look. It really looks like the club has given their players this stuff willingly. Two, three, four players may have just been a coincidence. But 14? 14 players is a whole starting team. And at one club. The chances of this being a coincidence are dropping by the minute.

A blurred photo... Looks suspicious, doesn't it? Is it a dirty, roided up footballer taking drugs? Or is it a man walking in a train station? You decide

A blurred photo… Looks suspicious, doesn’t it? Is it a dirty, roided up footballer taking drugs? Or is it a man walking in a train station? You decide


But let’s not pretend it’s just the club at fault here. A professional athlete has a responsibility for what he puts in his body. It’s his livelihood, and he can’t blindly subject himself to professional advice like cyclists apparently did all through the nineties and naughties. Tyler Hamilton was just as doped as Lance Armstrong. They both cheated; they both knew it was wrong. Whether Lance tried to force Tyler into it or not, Tyler still shouldn’t have doped. Same goes with the Sharkies. If something looks like dead rat, smells like dead rat, then it’s probably a dead rat. Any my dad always told me not to eat dead rat because it ain’t no crème brûlée.

I’m sure more than a few of you have received a text message or two from you mates with some rumours that are swirling around the other clubs as well. The rumours go that the Sharkies are merely the first to fall, and that major clubs are going to fall in the coming months, and with serious penalties and consequences. But these are just rumours, and they’re bound to proliferate in times like this. You can’t help but feel though that even when this Sharks matter is cleared up, there’s still a long way to go for ASADA. They’re not done yet.

Another interesting questions revolves around what the banned players are going to do while they’re cooling their heels on the sideline. What’s their media performance going to be like? Are we going to be told the hows, whys, wheres and whats, just like we were with Lance? I’m not going to be so bold to say that the public deserve to know, but realistically the public probably deserve to know. If one of Cronulla’s biggest players, the hero of kids who support the team, happened to take drugs, I don’t think putting a gag on him would be the right thing to do.

The players who took drugs have to be part of the solution.

All this is of course hypothetical, but it looks like it’s very much becoming a reality, and fast.

It’s also not a great look for all those folks who attempted to bluff ASADA into not investigating by thinking they’d called their bluff. Remember, an absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. There’s substance behind this investigation. Get used to it.

And if you’re a drug cheat, you might want to get used to being on the bench, because you’ll most likely have at least six months to practice it.

For those of you who believed in fairytales

I promised myself at the very beginning of this thing with Lance Armstrong that when Phil Liggett goes I go.

This is for a few reasons. First of all is the obvious one: Phil Liggett seems like just about the best bloke in history and should probably be listened to whenever he speaks he speaks about cycling, particularly when he speaks of the soul of the sport. Second of all the guy’s been watching Lance, and all the others, for years, and had a special kind of respect for him. He was reluctant to admit Lance did it, probably because he didn’t want to believe he had done it. I felt the same way.

The relationship between a commentator and an athlete is a funny one, and in the case of the Liggett-Armstrong relationship, a long one. There’s always an element of man-crush about it, but Liggett is a legend of the sport despite never having competed. He’s well thought of by those who listen.

He is referred to as ‘The voice of cycling.’ If this man is the voice, then surely he speaks from the heart of the sport. I wouldn’t say Phil speaks from the head. Phil is too pure to speak from the head. The head of the metaphorical cycling man is too corrupt.  The brains of the sport are in too deep to speak as Phil did.

So when Liggett said that he’s off the Lance-Wagon, I bailed too.

Let me reiterate, though, that I am reluctant to jump. Not because I don’t think he’s guilty. Not because what he did wasn’t wrong. The fact is it was so very wrong, and Lance knew it. I just wish he hadn’t.

In his speech after he won the 2005 Tour de France he criticised people who criticised him, saying they didn’t believe in miracles and were poorer for it.

The fact is that Lance Armstrong would have been the best thing to ever happen to cycling if he was clean. The fact that he cheated doesn’t vindicate anyone, particularly journalists with 20-20 hindsight. In some ways it only makes us poorer for having no one to believe in.

He was the man who won seven tours in a row, clean. He beat the cheats in their own backyard. He rose to the top and stayed there for longer than anyone else in the history of the sport. He dominated what I consider to be the hardest sporting event on the planet. He was the greatest this gruelling sport had ever seen, and there was daylight to second place. It was a real life miracle.

Or a fairytale.

It turns out that it was too much to ask for someone to beat the cheats without cheating himself. In no way am I justifying what he did by saying that he was only doing what everyone else did. I am simply saying that he was the man who we all thought could. I think sadness is just as appropriate a response as outrage.

The USADA report paints Lance as a bully; a ruthless individualist who will do anything to attain personal profit and glory. He manipulated and bullied the media into not reporting or retracting stories accusing him of doping. He bullied those who spoke out against him, and bullied his teammates into cooperating with the team doping policy.

He was the leader of the most sophisticated doping scheme in cycling history. He’s to blame for it all.

I didn’t know any of this was true before the USADA report. Then again, I didn’t realise Tiger Woods was a rampant sex maniac before his fall from grace in 2009. I think that, like Tiger, this image will be adjusted over time.

Like the reports of Tiger’s infidelity, I think the depiction of Lance as a bully who only wants what is good for himself will slowly recede in severity as his account is released and time runs its anger-cooling course.

People will begin to remember his charity work, which undoubtedly is a great thing that he has done for humanity, not just cycling, and many would argue is his greatest achievement (it certainly is now). Whether it was founded and nurtured under false pretences, and whether the means justify the end is certainly another point to debate, and may lead to another media storm. Another storm that will eventually rain itself out.

It may even come to pass, like it did with the Tiger, that people will actually start wishing him well again, and applaud him for his success in other ventures.

People will start to forgive him eventually.

The obvious question that really burns in all this is why has Lance refused to say anything? He could be writing his admission book, which will no doubt sell a load of copies and add fuel to the accusations of him being a money-hungry narcissist. He may be preparing some sort of statement that will not implicate him in anything legal, but admits his guilt. Who knows?

There have been some journalists (journalists I wasn’t even aware were cycling journalists, until now conveniently) who have said that his time has passed. It is too late to respond now, they say.

Why is that? Where is the arbitrary line that you drew that denotes the precise point when it was too late for an accused man to stand up and respond to these very serious allegations about the very fabric of his being; his life’s work? Or is it just because he didn’t fit in with your paper’s news values that his time has passed?

Take all the time you need Lance, but please direct your words toward the Phil Liggetts more than anyone else; those to whom you promised a miracle, and delivered this.

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair