Sunday, 1 February 2009

Is sport really that important?

Does anyone else have a problem with the issue of sports stars being caught for or admitting the use of recreational drugs.

Ben Cousins is one of the best ever Australian Rules Football players to have pulled on a boot.

He has everything, speed, stamina strength and the total skill set and ability and intelligence to execute the skills under the utmost pressure. He is also a proven and inspirational leader.

Ben Cousins developed a drug problem.

Ben Cousins was cut by his club, has been through a highly scrutinized rehabilitation process (that is continuous) and has now been picked up in the draft by a new club.

He is back and front page news day in day out. There are numerous jokes doing the internet rounds – seriously, is it really that funny to say he cannot have an ice bath?

Ben Cousins is subjected to at least 3 urine and blood drug tests a week in addition to any club required tests plus he has regular hair related drug tests. In fact, he must retain his hair at a minimum length as part of the conditions for his return to football.

I am not condoning illicit drug use for one nano second. Drugs are a scourge on our society and drug dependency is a disease that costs all communities socially and financially.

But the Ben Cousins case is all out of proportion, as are other cases involving high profile and the use of recreational drugs.

Professional and Olympic sports people the world over are subjected to drug testing, including non performance or recreational drugs.

Ben Cousins is a footballer. He is a footballer, first second and last. He plays sport. He does not perform medical diagnoses. He does not drive a school bus, fly an aircraft, drill teeth, drive a cab, judge a trial or make political decisions.

I would much prefer to be sure the driver of the bus my son catches to school is clean of drugs. I would refer the Doctor I visit, the pilot of the plane I travelled on a few weeks ago and the driver of the cab I caught when in Melbourne to be free of drugs.

Last year, we learned a well known Judge had a long term battle with drug use when he overdosed in a hotel room. Apparently, the legal fraternity had implemented a program to assist him in his battle with addiction. This process was undertaken without the need for a mass media announcement and without their being an ongoing media circus surrounding the rehabilitation process. And quite rightly too.

A Doctor can seek help from their medical body without the fear they will be made a public spectacle of.

The purpose of the support provided by the legal and medical bodies to their members is to help the rehabilitation process and to facilitate the individuals return to being a valuable contributing member of their profession and society in general.

I would argue that a Doctor, a Judge, a Dentist and a cab driver provide a much more valuable service to the community than an Australian Rules Footballer.

I would also argue that an athlete’s drug addiction should essentially remain a private matter. I can see no benefit to problem being made public knowledge and sensationalized.

The athlete should be given the same courtesy as everyone else and be allowed to go about the treatment of their disease in private and with the support of their professional, private and family networks.

We never see a headline saying “John Smith, plumber, admits smoking pot”

And while we are at it, let’s also make sure we are drug testing in the areas that really matter to the community. And the most important segment is not professional sports people.

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