“Oh Lucky Man”, the penultimate episode of the current season of “Underbelly”, screened in New Zealand this week. What has this to do with sport? Believe it or not, there is a topical connection.
The topic is the positive cocaine tests that were announced last weekend for Richard Gasquet, world no. 23 tennis player, and for Tom Boonen, arguably the leading road sprinter in world cycling.
The connection is that Chris “Mr Rent-a-Kill” Flannery was portrayed in said TV program as snorting cocaine just prior to carrying out some frenzied gangland executions.
It is for such “performance enhancement” that WADA and the IOC seek to ban athletes for two years for taking cocaine in-season.
To my mind this is ridiculous beyond words, and so I would like to do my little bit to take a stance against it.
For a start it is ridiculous because in all the cases of which I am aware – e.g., Gasquet, Boonen, Wendell Sailor, Matt Stevens, Martina Hingis – the cocaine use has been purely recreational and has had nothing to do with performance enhancement in sport.
Secondly it is ridiculous because even if cocaine were being used as a stimulant to achieve better performance, it’s benefit would be no greater than that of, say, performing the haka or being the recipient of one of Alan Jones’s legendary pep talks. I don’t see WADA suggesting that players should be banned for performing the haka or listening to Alan Jones (hey, now there’s a couple of nifty ideas!).
Thirdly, even if we were to reluctantly concede that there is some illicit performance-enhancing benefit in using cocaine, it is preposterous to equate such short-lived stimulation to the sustained and much greater benefit of using anabolic steroids or growth hormones or blood boosters, all of which attract exactly the same ban.
I’m guessing that WADA would argue that someone using cocaine could in principle do so before every sporting outing, and thus could attain performance enhancement every time. Well could someone please tell WADA to have a look at Ben Cousins, and they would quickly see where regular cocaine use leads – to a ruined life, as anyone with a smidgeon of common sense knows.
All this is so obvious that there can be only one conclusion: when it comes to cocaine use, WADA seeks to impose a moral code by stealth.
Well I have something to say to WADA and the IOC. I have never taken cocaine, so presumably I am in the demographic that these august bodies feel they are protecting and pleasing with their stance on cocaine. Frankly, I am appalled.
I was appalled and embarrassed by the treatment meted out to Wendell Sailor by the Australian rugby community, most of whom behaved like sniggering schoolboys with their class-fuelled glee over a rugby league convert being banned for nothing more than many of them were doing every weekend. I always wondered how these same people would have reacted had it been a “true blue” like Stirling Mortlock or Phil Waugh who tested positive.
Probably they would have reacted in the same way as English rugby did when one of their favorite sons, Lawrence Dallaglio, became tabloid fodder for use and distribution of cocaine and ecstasy: by closing ranks and protecting him.
Poor Matt Stevens – presumably because he’s a South African, the gin-n-tonic brigade think he deserves his two-year ban.
What will the ATP and its global stars do for Gasquet? The tennis fraternity was spared this issue in the case of Hingis, because the ever-clever Swiss Miss promptly announced her retirement after her cocaine positive, meaning that her two-year ban meant nothing.
But Gasquet is at the front end of his career – will his fellow tennis professionals rally around him in support if he is handed a nonsensical two-year ban?
Oddly enough it is in cycling, a sport riven by drugs and denials and cover-ups, that one finds some common sense over cocaine.
Boonen, who has been caught for the second time, is facing a ban of only 6 months, and this is purely aimed at helping him to sort out a personal problem, as opposed to being a punishment for trying to enhance sporting performance (yeah right, a guy is going to snort cocaine because it will help him to sprint faster after 6 hours in the saddle).
At least cycling’s tawdry record with drugs equips it to know what is a drug problem and what isn’t; quite clearly and quite correctly it has decided that it has much bigger fish to fry than cocaine.
Indeed, this is exactly what Graeme Steel, Chief Executive of Sport Free NZ (formerly the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency) had the courage to say publicly in 2007: that testing for recreational, non-performance-enhancing drugs is a waste of time and money, and that these precious resources would be far better spent on looking for the much smaller number of genuinely performance-enhancing drugs, namely steroids, growth hormones and blood boosters.
Interestingly, Steel was speaking not just of marijuana and cocaine, but also of things like cold remedies (remember the huge fuss over this and Samantha Riley about a decade ago?).
Evidently Steel made no headway in his battle, because we still have the utter charade over cocaine.
If sports want to ban their athletes from using cocaine, then let’s have that as a moral debate.
But please let’s desist with the charade of labelling it drugs in sport and imposing a ludicrously penal two-year ban.
One is almost tempted to unleash Chris “Mr Rent-a-Kill” Flannery on such proponents.