Dope …

I am at a complete loss to understand the AFL position on the Essendon drug scandal.

The ethics of drugs in sport seems to me fairly straight forward. If there is to be a competition let it be between athletes not between their physiologists. There is no place for drugs in sport. Cycling has a dirty reputation, track and field has been marred, weight lifting is tainted, all of these sports and many more have been diminished by athletes cheating.

But when you come to write the rules that will keep a sport clean you run into problems. Drugs have their therapeutic uses, are we to prevent athletes from having access to the benefits of modern medicine for the benefit of their sport’s reputation? How are we to rule what is allowed and what is not? If it’s to be a list of chemical formulae how do we ensure that someone doesn’t cheat by tweaking a molecule just enough that it remains a performance enhancer but technically it is not listed? How do we police it?

Too hard … so why not make it open slather? The playing field remains level that way. The answer to that is even more straight forward, the long term consequences of that policy would be gravely detrimental to the health of the athletes concerned. Pistol Pistorius’s bionic legs are better than the real thing, would we be happy letting up and coming runners have their legs amputated?

So we have an easily defined ethical position and a difficult task to put it into a workable legal framework and policing it.

Clearly, Essendon were out to achieve an advantage that went beyond physical training and good nutrition …

Watson said in the television interview that the number of injections used at Essendon last year was a “new frontier for us”.

“The experience of having that many injections was something I had not experienced in AFL football.”

In my view that was unethical. Was it against the rules?

In the same interview Watson admitted that the drug in question was AOD-9604. This was prohibited by the World Drug Agency and not approved for any form of therapeutic human use. So yes it was in breach of the rules.

Who broke the rules? The answer is defined in the rules. The athlete is responsible for what is administered to them. Therefore Watson broke the rules along with any other player that used banned substances. Watson, by his own admission, cheated in the season that he won the Brownlow medal for best and fairest player in the AFL competition.

It would seem that the exercise in cheating was a club initiative, it is inherently unlikely that players sought out a sports scientist behind the clubs back. James Hird, it is alleged, made use of the same substance, and sent and received emails that indicate he was well aware of what was going on. It would seem then that the club has failed miserably in its obligations to the young men that play for it.

I have treated athletes. They are not an easy group to deal with. They can be tested at any time, they know that it is their responsibility to keep banned substances out of their system. They want to know what will be used in their treatment, they want an assurance that you will assist in any investigation by providing information of what was used, in what doses and why, and they are quite likely to ask you to avoid using steroids even if there is a therapeutic indication for them. For some it verges on paranoia.

By comparison the Essendon football players seem a very incurious and adventurous bunch. To me that indicates an environment that gives no cause for fear of offending. The AFL itself has failed to create a drug averse environment.

The offence is taking a banned drug. The person guilty of the offence is the athlete that took the drug. No player has been charged despite one confessing on TV! What offence, then, has been committed?