Who will win the drugs race?
You are reading this probably because you just love rugby league and for whatever reason you cannot get enough. I love the game because I consider it the most demanding on a human body and it has a mix of power and endurance to go with the skill.
The huge demands on the athletes body and the short window of opportunity lends itself very much to drug cheats, to get that one big contract to set yourself up for life.
The NRL introduced blood-testing over two years ago, striking a landmark agreement with ASADA and the RLPA. “I don’t think any of this is going to send shivers up the spines of the players,” RLPA boss David Garnsey said.
When you watch copious amounts of rugby league and spend many hours analysing the statistics, occasionally you will raise an eyebrow. The footy lover will just admire the wonderful performances, but the cynic will question how that can be possible.
A paper written by Alastair Sarre for the Australian Academy of Science underlined that modern sport is plagued by suspicions that many top athletes resort to drug-taking – doping – to enhance their performance. They use anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, erythropoietin (EPO), beta-blockers, stimulants or diuretics.
“Historians point out that drugs have probably been used to enhance sporting performance for more than 2000 years, so it’s unlikely the problem will ever go away. For now, performance-enhancing drugs are illegal, so athletes who use them are cheats. And, given the health risks associated with drug abuse, we can safely say that the race to beat the drug tests is a race nobody wins”.
The paper took me back to my NRL analytics. Every sport has players who are outstanding, every sport has champions.
Can a player average 200 metres every week when his fellow forwards struggle with 100? Can a player have an 80 minute man of the match performance in the forwards when he has not played for weeks? Can a player turn up fit to play when doctors say it should not be possible?
Call me naïve, but cyclist Lance Armstrong has always been my greatest ever sportsman.
I hope history remembers him as a clean skin as he has been freakish from day one. The only time he ever had a spike in performance was when the priest was reading him his last rights after his doctors gave up on him and said he won’t overcome his cancer.
We have seen some herculean performances in our game recently which make for intriguing conversation at the pub, but until the dog can actually catch his tail changes are not likely at any time soon.
Alastair Sarre: “The issue of detection is critical to minimising the use of drugs in sport. If the regulations imposed by sporting bodies are impossible to police, we can expect that some athletes will ignore them.” he said.
“Alternatively, if drug-testing is quick, easy and reliable, we stand a much better chance of catching drug cheats. Unfortunately, as the science of detection advances, so too does the science of ‘masking’, or hiding, the evidence of drug abuse.”