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Tim Lane: Drug code is a collective worry for all

Posted by on 04/12/2018

SOME recent Australian Open tweeting invited ideas for specific collective nouns. Things became especially active when Roger Federer met the Roger Rasheed-coached Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. What’s the collective noun for Rogers? Suggestions included a Ramjet, a Rabbit, a confirmation, and a Jolly.

This week, illicit drug codes have been front of mind and, as they now exist in a number of professional Australian sports, a collective noun might be useful.

My first suggestion is a ”confusion”. Apart from the double entendre, it appeals for its description of the AFL illicit drug code’s greatest single perception problem.

This is caused by the existence of two discrete testing regimes dealing with two entirely different issues. The public has long been confused by this, politicians have shown little understanding of the dual policies, and sections of the media regularly trip over them. And now it appears even the father of the AFL’s program, Andrew Demetriou, is confused by what he has helped create.

Shortly before Wednesday’s summit, initiated to deal with concern at perceived failings of the illicit drug code, Demetriou spoke to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell. Towards the end of the interview, Demetriou invoked, with considerable theatrical impact, the name Lance Armstrong.

”I can tell you, Neil, inevitably they will be caught. And Lance Armstrong is the perfect example for all,” fumed the man whose chief media adviser has been known to chide journalists for confusing the AFL’s illicit drug code with its WADA-run program for performance-enhancing drugs.

While it’s likely Demetriou had in mind those who have been finding a way of avoiding detection of their illicit drug use via the self-disclosure loophole, he was doing nothing to clear the public’s mind. By introducing the name of sport’s most despised performance-enhancing drug cheat, he was pouring mud into water already murky enough to kill a Yarra River carp.

And it’s not just in practice that Armstrong is irrelevant to a testing program for illicit drugs. Linking the disqualification of the former cyclist to the AFL’s illicit drug testing also runs counter to the spirit and intent of the controversial code. Testing for illicit drugs, we’ve always been told, is not about pursuit and punishment; it’s about care, counselling, and correction. Likening those being tested under the illicit drug code to Lance Armstrong hardly affirms that.

Back to the collective noun hunt, though, and another that comes to mind is an ”encroachment” of illicit drug codes. For not only does this form of testing violate the privacy of those on whom it is being applied, recent days have revealed the virtual certainty of slippery-slope syndrome.

This week, the players have surrendered some of their freedom to safely self-disclose. It’s a compromise that for the moment holds at bay those club executives who were demanding earlier access to test results. Who knows what will happen next time, and – based on the evidence of club reaction to the program since its institution – there will be a next time.

But as encroachment goes, this was small fry. In The Age on Friday came a report of an extraordinary new level of intrusion by drug-frenzied (in a manner of speaking) clubs into the zone of players’ private lives.

According to Jake Niall’s story: ”… covert intelligence gathering on their players’ drug use” is being employed by some clubs. This, according to the report, even extends to the hiring of private detectives. Perhaps ”encroachment” as a collective noun fails on the basis of being too gentle by half.

Interestingly, two pages forward of this story another headline declared: ”Alcohol is enemy No. 1, says expert”. This report told of the fact that when AFL footballers are involved in incidents of drug use and violence, there is an almost inevitable link with alcohol.

This view was that of Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, who in 2007 was co-author of an AFL-commissioned study of AFL players’ alcohol use. It prompted Demetriou to admit the AFL had ”dropped the ball” on alcohol. Fitzgerald also said at Wednesday’s summit that increased drug testing provides ”data and not solutions”.

Yet the clubs’ frenzy on the matter of illicit drugs continues unabated. One wonders whether they might more effectively employ private detectives to keep count of how many pots of beer their players are downing on a big night out. Imagine that!

There are a couple more applicable collective nouns on offer. One is a ”disenfranchisement” of illicit drug codes: for contrary to the oft-stated claim that players volunteered for the AFL’s testing program, the decision was originally made for them by the AFLPA executive.

Not all players agreed with it, but all are bound by it. Neither they, nor any dissident players of the future, have any right to be excluded from it.

Finally, a fourth suggestion: a ”permanence” of illicit drug codes.

As the evidence mounts that the AFLPA has shackled itself to an unreasonably invasive regime, of which ever more onerous demands will continue to be made by clubs, it becomes blindingly obvious there is no way out. The egg has been scrambled.

And while I’d like to use it, unfortunately I’m not sure that a ”scrambled egg” of illicit drug codes quite does it.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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