Years ago the Wallaby’s doctor, Dr John Best, like his name one of the best in the business, told me that when he started he asked the players to put all the pills, vitamins, capsules, supplements and so they were taking on a table in front of him.
The table was quickly covered with lotions and potions of every shape and colour. Dr Best very quickly stopped the players from taking anything or any treatment that was not a 100 per cent approved and legitmate. Anything the players took had to come to Dr Best for his approval.
This estimable attitude has prevailed, it seems to me, in Australian rugby since then.
If you look on the ARU’s website you’ll find an article, an injunction essentially, titled: Anti-Doping: Get Educated. The article gives players, coaches and administrators access to the ASADA e-learning program, a core of six 15-minutes modules available to ‘those who want to be a Pure Performance Supporter.’
This sort of initiative builds on the work of sports doctors like Dr Best and is a justified reaction to those dreadful times when the doping efforts in East European countries (and later in countries like the USA) contaminated the Olympic sports, and then other major sports like cycling, baseball and gridiron.
The vigilance against doping in contact sports like rugby union, rugby league and Australian Rules Football is an obvious given. We have seen, say, in rugby the size of the players and their speed increase significantly since professionalism started in 1996.
The bigger and faster the players the more intense the collisions. Sir Clive Woodward, the coach of the 2003 England Rugby World, told me that some of the collisions on a rugby field have the force of a major car crash.
Within the last 10 years there were rumours of some star players (not in Australia or New Zealand) using creatine to bulk up their generally frail frames into a wiryness that made them competitive in Test rugby.
There are extensive testing programs in Tests and in the RWC tournaments. A handful of players have been caught out. There now has to be an unforgiving attitude to those who breach the guidelines and practices.
The reaction to the Australian Crime Commission’s revelation of a couple of leading players has been encouraging, in that it shows that the players seem to have got the message that you don’t meddle with products of dubious origin and intention.
Quade Cooper, for instance, makes the point that ‘if you take anything like that (supplements) in your mouth, it is at your own risk … For me, it is not worth taking something that could jeopardise my whole career.’ Well said!
And Drew Mitchell, like Cooper, a player who has had his share of injuries: ‘Once guys … go outside the team recommendations … that’s when it starts getting a little blurred … We’re well educated in that sense. Ignorance is not acceptable.’
And Tim Horan, a Wallaby hero who played a blinder in the semi-final of the 1999 RWC tournament against the Springboks with an upset stomach and a piece of toast for sustenance (no pills or supplements!), has put out this tweet: ‘What’s going on with drugs in sports these days? What about taking BHW tablets #BloodyHardWork.’
I read recently that professional cycling was one of the biggest sports in Sydney at the beginning of the 19th century, drawing huge crowds to its events and getting massive coverage in the local newspapers. But when it became clear that race-fixing and drug-taking were rampant in the sport, that the sport was ‘rotten to the core,’ the public enthusiasm for the sport collapsed.
The challenge for rugby administrators, players and coaches (and for the other major sports, of course) is to ensure that this corruption of the contest never takes place.