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Full two-year bans from ASADA the only way forward

Cronulla Sharks deputy chairman Keith Ward addresses the media during a press conference at Shark Park on Friday March 8, 2013. (Image: AAP/Damian Shaw)
Expert
10th March, 2013
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3061 Reads

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece in which I outlined why I didn’t care about the drugs scandal engulfing Australian sport, at least until some hard evidence was presented.

While that ‘hard’ evidence is still yet to be found – or at least presented to the public – it’s certainly apparent that something untoward has happened at the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL and at the Essendon Bombers in the AFL.

Never has the saying ‘where there is smoke, there is fire’ been more apt than in following the proceedings that have transpired over the last couple of days.

For while we still don’t know exactly what occurred at Cronulla, the fact the club stood down head coach Shane Flanagan and sacked four other senior staff members, suggests that the ASADA investigation into the Sharks has more than just ‘legs’.

However, it’s been extremely difficult to receive any consistent media reports about the Sharks scandal.

Since the story broke, conflicting reports have surfaced almost non-stop. Here is just a sample of the contradictory messages we’ve been told:

– Flanagan was stood down because he didn’t reveal allegations the players were injected with drugs – versus Flanagan was stood down for the very fact he didn’t know the players were injected with drugs.

– The substances the players are alleged to have been injected with weren’t on WADA’s banned substance list in 2011 – versus the substances the players are alleged to have been injected with were on WADA’s banned substance list in 2011.

– The players will be offered a reduction in suspensions from two years to six months if they come forward and confess – versus ASADA being unable to give such guarantees because each drugs case is always considered on its own merits.

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– The Sharks offering any player continued pay while suspended if they come clean and confess – versus the fact that any income from sport is illegal for banned players.

The above was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the misinformation and confusion surrounding the Cronulla Sharks club and the drugs scandal.

The story has taken many twists already, and will no doubt continue to do so until the full truth is eventually revealed.

If part of that ‘truth’ is that the Sharks’ players were indeed injected with banned substances, then the guilty players must receive the pertinent punishment in full. If that means two-year bans, then unfortunately, that is the penalty that must be handed down.

Ignorance simply cannot be an excuse. At the end of the day, athletes are responsible for what goes into their bodies, and the very second someone suggests to them that they should have an injection, some form of apprehension must enter their train of thought.

To simply state that you didn’t know you were taking a banned substance – even if the truth – isn’t a defence.

If that feeble excuse is allowed, then every guilty athlete can simply claim ignorance and turn a deliberate blind eye when a syringe makes its way near their skin.

The minute an illegal substance enters your bloodstream, you’re guilty. End of story.

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That’s harsh on the players, many of whom put their complete trust in their club and its medical staff. After all, what other option do they have?

Players are not qualified medical specialists, and the club pays their salaries. When they are told to do something, they do it.

That’s why I believe that those that administer the banned substances should receive the heaviest penalties.

I would have no issue with any individual that injects illegal drugs into players receiving significant jail time, along with being stripped of all their medical credentials.

Not only have these people engaged in illegal activity, but they’ve abused the trust put in them by their ‘patients’, and completely neglected any duty of care that they have for the players.

They should be severely punished.

Sadly, this still does not absolve the players from punishment.

At the end of the day, these are the individuals who have gained an unfair and illegal advantage. These are the individuals who are ultimately responsible for their bodies. These are the individuals who become the most public face of any scandal. And these are the individuals that must receive two year bans.

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Any reduction in suspensions sends the wrong message. If players receive six-month bans instead of two-year bans, it communicates that while ignorance will not give you a complete pardon, it will reduce your punishment by 75 percent.

That is completely unacceptable, as it opens the door for every player to cheat, and if caught, simply claim unawareness, before conveniently receiving a reduced sentence.

Yet in regards to the Sharks, it’s safe to say that this story is a long way from being over.

While the standing down of senior stuff is an admission of some form of guilt, there well may be some obstacles in punishing the players. The most obvious being that no one has actually failed a drug test.

A positive drug result is the ultimate ‘hard’ evidence, and is extremely difficult to argue against.

However, no Sharks players have tested positive to banned substances, which highlights why ASADA was so keen for players to confess, rather than simply punishing them immediately.

In that regard, it will be interesting to see what constitutes ‘evidence’ in the coming weeks.

Though I stand by my belief that if any Sharks, Bombers, or any other players, are found guilty of taking illegal drugs, then there should be no reduction in suspensions made available to them.

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If authorities are serious about cleaning up drugs in Australian sport, a zero tolerance policy must be adopted.

And for the players, that means that ignorance simply cannot be bliss.