Forum Sevens:
Agony and Ecstasy

One of sports fundamental principles, is that the competition should be fair and without discrimination, a concept embodying the highest of ideals. In short, drugs, privilege or position should not be a determining factor in success.

Last week, Rugby League Week published its annual players poll. Among the customary list of questions was the one of whether players believed there were still drugs, including recreational ones, being used by players. Incredibly, 24 players said no. Its feasible that one or two players could have led sheltered lives but 24 seems ludicrous. I'm not questioning the candour or veracity of the players answers but with recreational drugs commonplace in society, a community as large as professional rugby league won't be immune to its infiltration.

The rugby league rumour mill is perpetually fizzing just below the surface with claims from people who know of players who take drugs in their own time. I'd rather leave the rumour mongering of whose taking drugs to those who find satisfaction in conjecture and concentrate on whether there's a necessity to actually test players for some stimulants. Not wanting to appear to be advocating recreational drug use, the bottom line is consumption is a personal choice and rationally, are recreational drugs in direct conflict to those aforementioned fundamental principles?

There are the aspects of legality and negative publicity for the game but the perception that our sporting hero's should walk a higher moral ground than many of us is interesting.

If these men test positive for recreational drugs listed on the prohibited stimulants list, we ban them from playing league for a specific period. We rationalise these bans with didactic ramblings about negative role models and making examples of them in the name of deterrence. Yet the same persecution isn't shown to what many in our society, namely our young, would consider role models. Musicians and movie stars aren't banned from performing when identified as being a consumer of an illicit stimulant and most of you from the older age group probably yourself enjoyed songs by The Beatles or The Doors that were written and often performed while under the influence of any number of drugs. Has it been detrimental to the sum total of your life? Logic would say not.

The argument, that many of these recreational drugs can be beneficial to the player on the field, is negligible.

Take cocaine for example. Studies are yet to provide evidence that it is a performance enhancer and have shown that most of its effects on energy metabolism are negative. It decreases endurance, increases glycogen (essential for energy) depletion and elevates fatty acid and plasma lactate levels, all of which are injurious to the player's performance when their greatest levels of exertion need to be enduring. Ecstasy is another popular drug of choice and any player taking it runs the gauntlet of testing positive for methamphetamine or any number of derivatives. Like cocaine however, it does not provide extra physical or mental energy and is more likely to be detrimental to the player's health than enhance their performance.

Farcically, the legal prohibited stimulant and one consumed by a good number of us on a daily basis, caffeine, appears to provide the most benefit in performance enhancement. Increased energy levels, however, are gained at much lower levels (2-3mcg/mL) than the level at which it is banned (12mcg/mL). Could this be a direct result of the fact that caffeine is an accepted stimulant in our culture, one thats a foundation in many social relationships and banning it at the level at which performance enhancement is obtained would incur an outcry that human rights were being breeched?

One could argue that these same rights were being breeched every time a player is tested.

Some have the agony of up to a two-hour wait for their dehydrated bodies to produce a sample and all have to void in the drug control officers direct view and its not a case of standing at a urinal with polite indifference. Whilst this sampling method appears somewhat antiquated in today's society, it's the most cost effective method of testing and honest players want those gaining an advantage through performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic agents and diuretics identified but is it really necessary to keep tabs on and punish a players recreational activity? The answer to this question will no doubt reflect the differing dichotomies of our beliefs and is guaranteed to cause emotive argument. One I'll keep a wide berth of.

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