James Dampney: Drugs And Sport

Drugs And Sport

Given the hot topic of the drug issue developing in Queensland, MyCityLife’s Senior Sports Columnist James Dampney explores this contentious affair.

Super-fit, finely-tuned athletes, getting involved with illicit drugs. It almost seems like a contradiction in terms. 

When the general public thinks of drug users, it’s a seedy underworld that usually comes to mind. Dodgy deals in back alleys, people getting high in dimly lit parks and scratching around for their next score. Surely professional sportsmen and women are too focused on honing their craft – and too concerned about the implications of getting caught – to get involved with illegal substances on a significant level?

But the reality is, the selling and using of drugs pervades every aspect of the human existence, and athletes are far from immune. If that wasn’t already clear, the events unfolding in Queensland this week have rammed that point home in no uncertain terms. Still, it is hard to wrap your head around just who has been implicated, and what they are alleged to have done.

Karmichael Hunt was the first big name to emerge in drug supply allegations stemming from an investigation by the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission. This is the same Karmichael Hunt that picked up Queensland and Australian jerseys and an NRL premiership, all before his 21st birthday. Yes, the same Karmichael Hunt that earned roughly $1 million in each of the five seasons he played AFL for the Gold Coast Suns, before endorsements. How on earth could he have any need or desire to supply cocaine, as has been alleged? Hunt faces four counts of supplying drugs in a Gold Coast court next week.

The net has widened to include two more State of Origin players: Greg Bird and Dave Taylor, both from the Gold Coast Titans. As it stands, six current or former Titans have been implicated at a time when the club can’t pay its bills and has been taken over by the NRL. “Each of these revelations places the club in a more difficult position,” beleaguered Gold Coast CEO Graham Annesley said this week. “I’ve kind of run out of words to explain it.” Unfortunately, few believe this is the end of the investigation. Sports administrators across the country must be nervously awaiting phone calls confirming their sport is also involved.

When the federal government dropped its bombshell regarding performance-enhancing drugs, corruption and match fixing in sport in 2013, it was infamously labeled the “blackest day in Australian sport”. If so, what is currently unfolding looms as a black hole of universe-devouring proportions. 

We have, of course, seen elements of this before. Andrew Johns finally admitted well after the end of his playing days that he had been a regular drug user during his career. Ben Cousins was, and remains, a tragic story. I was living in Perth between 2004 and 2006, the peak period of West Coast’s troubles. Similarly to Johns in Newcastle, it was reasonably well known Cousins and some teammates weren’t necessarily sticking to the training regime set down by the Eagles’ coaching staff. But just like with Johns, those members of the public in the know didn’t care. These were their heroes. They helped their team win on the weekend.

Athletes at the highest level don’t operate in the same atmosphere as the rest of us. They are put on podiums from a young age and, as most of us would, come to enjoy the rarified air. Undeniably, there are high stresses involved. A player can be one serious injury or one poor season away from losing those enormous contracts and that way of life.

But surely that should be a lesson to invest wisely and make sound choices, rather than led down a darkened path that almost inevitably ends up in courtrooms and police stations? Is it that hard to get to training on time, listen to your coach and try to perform on the weekend? I’m sure most of us would do just about anything to live a life in that particular sphere. Thankfully, of course, the overwhelming majority do the right thing, giving us sports fans something to cheer for in our respective codes of choice for a couple of hours each week.

But if the likes of Hunt, Bird and Taylor can be caught up in these types of allegations, and right now that is all they are, it seems nothing is sacred in the sporting world.


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