It shouldn’t create such ripples among the AFL and wider Australian sport institutions when Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert shares his fears about the ‘growing’ illicit drug culture in Aussie Rules.
The undeniable, yet often well protected, truth is that illicit drug use is rife in Australian sport. ‘Three strikes and you’re out’ is the ruling from the AFL on illicit drug use, a sign one of Australia’s most powerful sporting organisations conceding it happens.
Ben Cousins is one of the more public examples of this “volcanic behaviour”, as Pert puts it, who has outed his own addictions to drug use while being an elite athlete.
The serious drug convictions Cousins faced earlier this year mark the end of another sordid chapter in Cousins’ public fall from grace after being sacked from his beloved West Coast Eagles and retiring in 2010 after the chronicles of his drug addiction were aired in a television documentary.
At the time of the latest Cousins drug conviction, Police Minister Rob Johnsons suggested jail time could be a suitable option for the AFL great.
“Very often people can benefit from spending a bit of time in jail to break the system of taking drugs and get some rehabilitation. Eight hundred dollars is probably two or three fixes to some people” he said.
But the AFL is not the bad boy of Australian sport, by any means. The National Rugby League has had its fair share of illicit drugs battles.
Former Newcastle Knights player Danny Wicks was charged with supplying illicit recreational drugs, specifically for dealing “a full tank of gas” or “another gas bottle” as read his text messages.
Other league players have also spoken out against a culture mixing recreational drugs and alcohol with painkillers.
The real issue is that, as one leading rugby league player who wanted to remain anonymous puts it, “clubs are turning a blind eye to it”.
I’ve had ties with a rugby league club that was forced to sanction players from their Toyota Cup and NSW Cup squads for failing drug tests. Some players were sacked, others were allowed to continue representing their club.
I’ve been to end of season parties with clubs of the NRL where players are openly gloating about their drug use, both in Australia and on overseas trips. As if they feel they are unrestrained by the regulations of their respective sporting body.
Our sporting institutions KNOW this is happening. But their administrators know the brands of their respective codes will be severely damaged if they lose some of their greatest stars, which can potentially lead to a decline in audiences and effectively marketing opportunities.
Collingwood Football Club coach Nathan Buckley has come out today in support of CE Pert, saying players need to be educated and tested more.
"I don't think we can know enough about it and I don't think we can hold our players to account enough about it," he said.
Here’s the short of it. Illicit drugs are illegal because of their dangerous and unpredictable effects. Australian sport players, whether they like it or not, are icons, heroes and ambassadors to millions around the world who hold onto the dream to emulate their success.
AFL players get three chances, but not everyone does when they pick up a bad pill.