An act of bravado or merely desperation? We're not sure, but the new AAA lobby set up to limit scrutiny of professional athletes' illicit drug use gets full marks for chutzpah. The question is whether the Australian public will swallow it.
The Australian Athletes Association ("Triple-A" as they want to be known) is a potent lobbying group comprising players' association from the AFL, Rugby Union and Rugby Leage, as well as soccer, netball, cricket and swimming. While it's been an informal lobby for some eight or nine years, they're now an incorporated body representing some 2000 of the highest-paid and most-privileged people in the country.
However, like a traditional union "peak body", its role is to bring maximum pressure to bear on decision-makers (via the public) to advance the interests of its members. It's taken two actions to date, both centred on ensuring that drug-use by professional athletes goes unscrutinised.
Firstly, they've called for special athlete-only laws that use the full weight of legislation to punish people who "do not do enough" to preserve athlete's privacy:
"Legislative protections should be introduced to penalise persons or organisations in breach of security protocols protecting athletes' records or seek to publish the same," the group said. (The Age, 20/9/2007)
Remember, this is above and beyond the existing rules and regulations that apply to everyone else. This somewhat unusual demand of enshrining their privacy rights in law - to the exclusion of any other considerations - highlights the fundamentally selfish stance of this pressure group.
The second action was a bit more predictable. Someone new to this issue might assume a peak lobby group would co-ordinate a uniform code across the various sports. But no, that might lead to increased scrutiny, more detections, more exclusions and, ultimately, less drug-taking. Instead, they're pushing hard for a "whatever you can get away with" policy:
The AAA held its first media conference on Wednesday to announce an eight-point policy on illicit drugs in sport.
It strongly argues that each sport should be allowed to formulate its own illicit policy.
The Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) is negotiating an illicit policy with Cricket Australia.
"Our view is that there's been too much made of the whole two- versus three-strike approach, this is about getting the right welfare model in place for our players," said ACA chief executive Paul Marsh.
AFLPA chief executive Brendon Gale and his NRL counterpart Matt Rodwell said they supported the other sport's illicit drugs policy.
"The different deterrents in each policy is respective to their own sport and I'm not here to judge the AFL, I'm supportive of their action," Rodwell said.
Underlining the differences between sports, Australian Swimmers' Association Regan Sterry said an illicit drugs policy for swimming would focus on education, not testing. (The Age, 19/9/2007)
The sight of Rodwell and Gale slapping each other on the back for their divergent drug policies is certainly bizarre. But what else could they say? "Well done, Brendon, on getting that one past your gormless fans. I can't believe they bought that! I only wish our mugs were as dumb." Hardly.
What they're not keen to dwell on is that there are at least three - possibly five or more - AFL footballers who are continuing to play without sanction when, under the NRL policy, they would be named, shamed and banned. The idea that "cultural complexities" between the AFL and NRL justify this inconsistency is a slap in the face to thinking people everywhere.
Sure, lots of unions demand the outrageous; they fight their corner and these ambit claims all part of the public debate. But why anyone would listen to a bunch of millionaires demanding ill-conceived, uncoordinated and selfish special privileges with the effect of protecting their ability to consume illicit drugs risk-free is a mystery.
I suppose the real tragedy isn't that they ask, it's that our sports-mad and hero-worshipping public will let them get away with it.
As we go to air tonight, a drugs scandal is breaking on the interwebs. Hotbed of rumour and innuendo, Big Footy, hosted a thread where posters alleged that a third strike had been recorded against a player from the Unnamed Melbourne Club at the centre of the Channel Seven/AFL stoush.
I have to tread very carefully here, but here goes:
Three weeks ago, Channel 7 reported that two players from the club were on two strikes, with a number of others on one strike. The 2006 court injunction prevents the naming of three players on two strikes from 2005. The 2007 court injunction prevents the naming of the Unnamed Melbourne Club or its players. The AFL claims no one was pinged for a second strike in 2006. This means the pair of two-strikers at this club achieved this dubious honour in 2007. If the latest allegations of a third strike are true, someone at this club got pinged twice this year.
When you consider the extraordinarily and wilfully sloppy testing regime (replete with tip-offs of "random" testing, players declining to provide a sample, many players going years without a test etc) then the chances of getting picked up twice in a few months suggests some pretty bloody intensive drug use. That is, if it happened at all. We're not allowed to know. Free press? Nah. Just shut up and pay up.
Big Footy, under legal threat, has removed the thread. Others online are not so easily cowed nor prepared to turn the other cheek. (No links here, I'm afraid. Keep searching.) My understanding is that on the third strike, the player must be named. (Yes, even under the AFL's policy it will happen eventually.) However, I'm not sure what the timing is on this and I imagine officials would try to delay this until after the Grand Final, for publicity reasons.
Naturally, we'll follow this closely. If you want updates, subscribe with your newsreader (RSS) or use the email subscription box on the lower right.
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