The Roar
The Roar


Does rugby league have a drug problem or do drugs have a rugby league problem?

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
26th April, 2018
1510 Reads

So there was this story in The Guardian, see, about so-called “recreational” drug use by rugby league players in England.

Seems four of the poor blighters have tested positive in the last year or so which has caused commentators and pundits and assorted chatter-boxes to query if the game has a problem with drugs.

So it goes, in the way of these things.

And yet! There is no problem, at least not according to the head of the Rugby League Players Association, Garreth Carvell, a former Great Britain prop, who said rugby league is no different to any other strata of British society.

There’s drugs in it. And that’s just it.

“I honestly think it’s a society thing,” said Carvell. “Rugby players are from a background where they still knock around with the friends they grew up with in working-class areas. They’re not really in the limelight and can live a fairly normal life.

“And, for whatever reason, recreational drugs don’t seem to be as frowned upon as they once were.”

Not that Carvell was advocating drug use, mind. He said he wanted to “help these people and show them there is life to be enjoyed without the use of drugs and, furthermore, outside of rugby league.

“Improving those support channels is something the RLPA is pushing for and I know clubs feel the same.”


Which all seems fairly straightforward to me. Young blokes take drugs. Rugby league’s played by young blokes. Get them help if they need it. But don’t pontificate or call for Life Bans or what have you. Try to understand, to empathise. And don’t lose your mind.

I mean… four positive tests in a year? Pretty good, really.

Because here’s a straight-up fact: there were more than four rugby league players who took drugs in the last year.

If these four of the how-ever-many hundred professional rugby league players in England are the only ones to take a recreational drug in the last 12 months, I will walk nude to Fremantle.

And then swim to Cape Town.

And catch a train to Nairobi.

And swim to Argentina.

And so on.


Drugs? Drugs are just a thing. They just are. They’re a societal thing, a vice, like booze and gambling except illegal.

And one day we’ll legalise them like we did booze and gambling, and manage them as best we can, as we do with booze and gambling which are social vices.

And there is completely legal nicotine which has killed more people than all the wars. Another story.

In this one the RLPA of the UK tweeted out The Guardian’s piece and punters were – in the way of the Twitters – positive and negative about it.

One fellow with what seems some skin in the game, Mr @TheGameCaller – who describes himself as a “Rugby League connoisseur blithely inattentive to the sport’s doomsayers” – contended that he loves rugby league because it’s “dominated by passion and heart”.

And yet, our man laments, that “were we to collectively show equal passion towards the eradication of drug use in rugby league then the sport we all deeply care about would be in a better and healthier place.”

Which may even be true. But eradicating drug use? As Marge Simpson would say to Homer: “Hmmmmmmm”.

I mean, how do you plan to do that? All the police agencies in all the world haven’t done that. Even that maniac in the Phillippines who’s killing people can’t stop it.



So I Tweeted old mate:

“But they’re right though, aren’t they, the RLPA? How would you eradicate drugs from rugby league when you can’t eradicate it from Society? Players live in Society. They’re in a bubble to an extent, sure. But they still go out. They like a party much as the next person.”

To which old mate replied: “The problem is much more widespread in #RugbyLeague than we first thought and you’re right about the role society plays on the accessibility of the players to obtain the drugs. I feel the current deterrents (1/2 year bans) aren’t enough to stop players turning to substance abuse.”

To which I replied: “In the NRL, test positive, first time it’s counselling. Second time it’s 12 weeks and publicised. Third time is two years, publicised, probably your career (depending how good you are). So pretty tough. Doesn’t stop it. Jail doesn’t stop it in Society. ‘War’ on drugs: unwinnable”.

And then I put my keyboard in the holster because you don’t want to get too stuck into these things, they can rule your life.

And I sat back and watched others join in with various opinions which, in the way of these things, skewed off on many and various tangents.

One fellow warned of “the tentacles of organised crime”.


Another advocated for “more stringent testing”.

Someone else said there should be a drug test at every club every Monday morning, which for mine would take the “random” factor out of random drug tests and see a whole lot of parties going on Monday nights.

But, as I said, I wasn’t going to stoke it.

And then Victoria S Dawson – “Researcher. History PhD. Interdisciplinary. Feminist. Socialist. Intersectional. Working-class. Northern powerhouse. Literature/cats/learning = life” – upped the ante, and declared that the entire “culture of rugby league itself needs addressing”.

“The hypermasculine nature of the sport only serves to concentrate the excesses of society, exacerbating issues in men who are made to believe they should to be invincible. RL promotes toxic masculinity,” tweeted Dawson.

Now, I didn’t want to get into it with Victoria S Dawson because, well, y’know, she would be pretty certain of the absolute correctness of her argument and I’d suggest there would be no brooking it.

I foresaw no good from engagement.

But I’ve had a sit back and think about it and… and, well… I don’t know what she’s talking about.


Rugby league’s hyper-masculinity concentrates the excesses of society and exacerbates male issues to the point they believe they’re invincible?

I don’t know that this is true.

I’m not even sure what it means.