“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” This win-at-all costs sports creed, adopted by the Americans, has now crept into the psyche of Australian sport.

I'm telling you, this game is NOT EASY!! Photo: Phil Hillyard

Drugs in sport will continue to tarnish the reputation of sporting groups and their athletes – such is their desire to be the best. The Lance Armstrong scandal has been a classic case. The consequences are lethal to careers and reveal the human failings that reflect the deadly sins – greed and pride.

We’ve seen former Australian cyclists Matt White and Stephen Hodge dragged into the tour mess and they were promptly sacked. Are they scapegoats in an elaborate, complex plot that touched most riders of the cycling tour?

Something is rotten in the footy codes and this is a crisis.

What percentage of footballers are playing on injections? And how often has organised crime infiltrated our sports in a bid to control results?

While sports scientists explore better ways to find the edge in sports performance, the reality is that drug use is an option to help athletes recover, and stimulate the growth and recovery of muscles for more power and sustained effort.

There will always be a temptation for sports managers – and athletes – to cut corners and this has been proven time and time again. While the Essendon drugs investigation has rocked the AFL and Australian sport, it is a startling reminder that Australian fans expect a clean contest.

Australians take great pride in competing with integrity, after a long period of hard work, toughness and careful skill development. We have seen many success stories at international-level sport, plus AFL, where athletes have shown an amazing level of work ethic to achieve great results.

Australians deplore cheating. In fact, fans are viciously critical of elite athletes when they are proven to be drug cheats. This has infuriated clean Aussies at Olympic and world championship level, who have been vocal opponents of drug cheats while they toil for a taste of glory through legitimate methods.

But the sad reality is drugs have become part-and-parcel of sport because of the status (and the waiting gold pot) of winning. It is no surprise that drugs, used for hormone replacement and to improve recovery and soreness, have been used in the AFL. Why?

Try running half a marathon every week on the footy field, while getting knocked from pillar to post, and then getting up again each week, displaying flashes of brilliance. It’s what is expected of these athletes who play the most demanding sport in the world.

The physical and mental strain these footballers carry is something that spectators don’t fathom - only if they walk in their shoes. Ask any broken AFL player how tough it is – and he will reveal the depth of his pain. It’s no surprise that illicit drug use is widespread in our own backyard.

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    • Nathan says:

      05:10am | 09/02/13

      “Try running half a marathon every week on the footy field, while getting knocked from pillar to post, and then getting up again each week,”  ...... If they don’t like it or its getting tough then retire. At the end of the day they are getting paid to play the sport they love, most people should be so lucky.

    • mikem says:

      05:26am | 09/02/13

      Once again the AFL seems hellbent on finding a scapegoat to punish for the failings of its Mickey Mouse drug policy.  News for you folks - window dressing and smoke and mirrors isn’t going to solve the problem.

    • GEV says:

      09:18am | 09/02/13

      Once again some tool is hellbent on confusing issues to smear the AFL. The AFL drugs policy in respect to PEDs is the WADA policy. If you have a problem with the policy, take it up with WADA.

    • Stimulated says:

      10:31am | 09/02/13

      Asleep at the wheel would suggest the Hierarchy administration should be replaced,Shock horror that players covered in tats and frequenting nightspots famous for crime and illicit activities would be involved in drug use. Crime and Drugs of all types are now popular culture and penalties for celebrities are nonsense.Photo opps are far more important than integrity in sport based on this ongoing investigation so far
      Buck passing and PR statements are the only pathetic response so far and nothing will be done because the domino effect could topple all the current celebrity administrators and their populous type sycophants
      All to little to late
      Andrew Johns, Hall of Fame and drug user is celebrated on a daily basis is a classic example of selective indignation and preferred treatment
      Ben Cousins is pilloried,yet he is no worse than the others. All Bullshit

    • mikem says:

      12:10pm | 09/02/13

      Attitudes like yours GEV are the problem.  The AFL’s drug policy is based on the the absolute minimum of what is necessary compromised by get out of jail free cards - self reporting and 3 strikes before you are outed.  These are policies whose legality is questionable given that they conceal criminal acts.

      The denial and concealment culture that exists in football is not that different to that which exists in cycling and that needs to change.  Unless the attitude changes the problems will only get worse.  The AFL needs to be a role model in the fight against drug use of all types.

      If Essendon are found to have breached the guidelines and/or broken the law then bans of a considerable length need to be imposed on the club and those officials who participated in the offences.  The hard question is what to do with the players because mostly they will have been pawns in the game - at the same time though they are individuals who are supposed to be able to think for themselves therefore they should not get off scot free.

    • acotrel says:

      05:33am | 09/02/13

      ‘But the sad reality is drugs have become part-and-parcel of sport because of the status (and the waiting gold pot) of winning.’

      And because of the gambling and organised crime.

    • Peter says:

      05:53am | 09/02/13

      Pandora’s box has been openned and it’s going to be bloody hard to close it. Another thing is the reluctance to lose attractively rather than win ugly. Add to this the fact that most people like to at least having a punt every now and then.
      The pressure on the players and clubs must be enormous. The only positive in recent years has been the criticism of clubs that win ugly. Still clubs want to win regardless.
      Unless we talk about Melbourne a few years back! Only joking. I admit I have not followed the tanking investigation. Still, if I was an AFL coach and towards the end of the season it came to the point that I could not reach the eight, then anyone who needs surgery gets it ASAP. I would not bother with the current season, the next season would be on my mind and so young players would get their chance if the space is available. I would experiment too. That is not tanking though. A bit off topic.
      Back on topic. How about we cut back some of the betting options????

    • Sickemrex says:

      06:54am | 09/02/13

      A better question would “what percentage of footballers are playing on injections of illegal substances?” All I have heard, and continue to hear, is hysteria. Does “widespread” mean 100%? 50%? 5%? Needles don’t necessarily mean illegal. Until names are named, this is all just posturing. I’m not at all pro PIEDs, just anti the tarnishing of the players who aren’t doing the wrong thing.

    • Prick With a Fork says:

      06:58am | 09/02/13

      As an American, I love being blamed in the very first sentence of this piece for decisions made by a bunch of Thugby League riff-raff.

    • Julie Tullberg says:

      09:49am | 09/02/13

      No blame attributed. It’s source was from American football ... and the quote has been repeated by many coaches. It’s a iconic line.

    • Angry God of Townsville says:

      10:33am | 09/02/13

      PWAF, please understand that most journos have a rather large chip on their shoulder.The East German women are the worlds greatest examples of drugs in sports and yet they are never mentioned in articles like these.

    • sunny says:

      10:36am | 09/02/13

      Well you guys did bring us the World Wrestling Federation, and I believe I’m not the only one who has long suspected match fixing is rife in that sport.

    • Ben says:

      10:38am | 09/02/13

      I’m not American, and even I thought it sounded opportunistic and snide. However, the author inadvertently scored an own goal with the use of the phrase “this win-at-all costs sports creed, adopted by the Americans”. She effectively states that this creed was the creation of someone other than the Americans.

    • Gavin says:

      11:25am | 09/02/13

      From Vince Lombari no less - the man from whom the superbowl trophy gets it’s name. I think you’ll find the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, not rugby.

    • Chillin says:

      12:26pm | 09/02/13

      It wasn’t Vince Lombardi, it was Henry Russell Sanders of the UCLA Bruins.

    • GROBP says:

      07:06am | 09/02/13

      The “goshing and gasping” about all this is ridiculous.

      Anyone associated with elite sport has known about this for twenty years and thought everyone knew but just kept it a universal secret.

      The gaspers haven’t noticed the sudden size, improved performance?

      It’s a fact you cannot compete at an elite level without drugs. You need them to recover from hard training just like the athlete next to you that’s on them. Simple as that. If you’re paid big bucks, and there’s a gazillion people wanting your position, you’re on drugs. Either come up with solutions, like prescriptions or, stop sport, or get over it. This is surely not the surprise the media are blowing it up to be.

    • J says:

      07:12am | 09/02/13

      You say something is rotten in the Footy codes.  Do you have more info than everyone else?  I haven’t heard of any specific allegations or investigations other than some rumours about Essendon.  All I have heard is any excuse to get bad news for labor to be moved from the front page every day.

    • marley says:

      08:48am | 09/02/13

      I expect she’s read the ACC report.

    • GarryT says:

      08:58am | 09/02/13

      You get the gold star!! Spot on.

    • Julie Tullberg says:

      09:55am | 09/02/13

      The report, Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport, is available on the Australian Crime Commission website. All details are documented.

    • Simon Trent says:

      01:59pm | 09/02/13

      Yeah the big four sports are bent. The report outlines this. Its now a criminal investigation because the sporting bodies havent dealt with it. It seems now they have turned a blind eye to it. And the only reason Demetriou and co are coming out in defence is simply to protect the brand. Well its all too late, no empathy here.

    • RobJ says:

      07:23am | 09/02/13

      “Let’s inject some empathy into the drugs debate”

      So now it’s becoming apparent that Aussies may cheat as much as those they have pointed the finger at we have to understand?

      “Try running half a marathon every week on the footy field, while getting knocked from pillar to post, and then getting up again each week, displaying flashes of brilliance. It’s what is expected of these athletes who play the most demanding sport in the world.”

      Cry me a river, those poor, highly paid athletes. Besides it’s rather debatable that AFL is the most demanding sport. More demanding than league. Union? Boxing?  MMA, sure they play frequently but really compared to other codes of football they don’t actually play that many games, it’s a short season. And they are pampered.

    • kitteh says:

      04:36pm | 09/02/13

      I’ve yet to see a ‘brilliant’ act in any sport that comes even close to what our nurses, paramedics and carers do on a daily basis - for a tiny fraction of the pay and none of the respect these players have lavished on them by the public.

      So yeah, I’ll be saving my empathy for people who deserve it.

    • Chillin says:

      07:37am | 09/02/13

      Win at all costs isn’t new in Australian sports.  It has nothing to do with America.  Some shallow stereo-typing there…let’s ‘blame’ America.  After all it’s easier than accepting responsibility ourselves, for our own actions.

    • Julie Tullberg says:

      09:57am | 09/02/13

      It’s merely citing the original source of the quote, which has been used widely in American sport. It has also been used by teams around the world. No blame is attributed.

    • Chillin says:

      11:08am | 09/02/13

      The issue is with “This win-at-all costs sports creed, adopted by the Americans, has now crept into the psyche of Australian sport.’

      The Americans haven’t influenced us at all.  Nothing has ’ now crept into the psyche of Australian sport’.

      We’ve always had this attitude.

    • Chillin says:

      07:40am | 09/02/13

      We’ve seen these bodies come out with astounding allegations before, usually around the time funding is due or the government is considering the future of the investigative body as they provide no worth.

      The lack of detail, the lack of evidence, is becoming suspicious.  Let’s hope there’s some substance behind ‘our darkest day in Australian sporting history’.

      Hand wring, hand wring, hand wring.

    • Julie Tullberg says:

      09:58am | 09/02/13

      Please read the report on the Australian Crime Commission website.

    • Chillin says:

      10:45am | 09/02/13

      Hi Julie,

      I’ve read the report.  It contains no evidence, it contains a lot of unsubstantiated allegations.  I’ve seen these government initiated investigations in the past.  From the past, one finds no evidence other than one or two offenders at best who did nothing close to the hysterical allegations made in the first place.  One would have expected the media to ask for substantive evidence rather than scream from the roof tops with no proof.  Not here in Australia, I understand that.

    • Allen says:

      11:16am | 09/02/13

      I’ve read the report and they’ve scraped together every half truth, rumor and irrelevancy, some of them years old, and prefaced every claim with “possibly”. I can accept they have to be circumspect in what they say, but this is so vague and insubstantial it’s a joke.

      What’s more, it was completed months ago which is ample time to have completely informed all the relevant police authorities and had everyone arrested at the time of their press conference.

      The whole story is a beat up, it’s been sitting there waiting to be played as a political distraction card. Nothing will come of it.

    • marley says:

      12:48pm | 09/02/13

      @Chillin - the ACC public report is the summary of their findings.  The confidential report is going to the cops.  That’s the one with the detail which would back up the summary.  We’ll just have to wait and see - but frankly, it’s absolutely obvious that the drug testing protocols are entirely inadequate and nobody cares.

    • Chillin says:

      02:38pm | 09/02/13

      Yes marley, as I mentioned I am very familiar with government reports, I know how to read them and I know what they mean.

      Most of the time,  they contain very little.

      In the mean time we wait while everyone hands themselves in just as the Minister asked…lmao.

    • marley says:

      07:52am | 09/02/13

      To be honest, I’m not quite sure what the point of this article is.  That using performance-enhancing drugs is bad, that cheating is bad, but we should go easy on the users because they’re in a tough business, they get hurt, and they’re competing with cheats?  Aren’t those pretty much Lance Armstrong’s excuses?

      To me, the fundamental problem with this and similar articles is the belief that using drugs is some sort of American thing that real Aussies would never resort to.  That Australian sport has been and is above that sort of thing.  Frankly, that’s sentimental claptrap.  When there’s big money to be made competing at the elite level, whether from prizes, appearance money, sponsorships, TV ads, or backhanders from bookies and organised criminals, athletes will be tempted and some will succumb, and nationality has nothing at all to do with it.  Australia has had a head in the sand attitude to drug testing for far too long. Time to get serious.  Forget sympathy for the poor aching athletes, and think two year bans.

    • Rose says:

      12:39pm | 09/02/13

      It always amuses me when Australians, sports heroes or otherwise, are elevated to the very top of the pedestal. No,our sports people would NEVER cheat…. Dream on, our sports people are human, some will cheat, others won’t. There is no great moral high ground that is occupied by Australians, we’re as fallible as every other race. Even after natural disasters we see footage of people helping each other and it’s declared a sign of Australian mateship or some other crap. It’s got nothing to do with being Australian, it’s to do with being human. It’s a sign of being decent, and people from every single nation do exactly the same thing in times of need.
      If we stopped kidding ourselves that Australians are some sort of superior race and just acknowledged that there are as many issues in our country as in most others, then we might not get knocked for a six every time we are shown evidence of our own failings.

    • scubasteve says:

      07:56am | 09/02/13

      you lost me at ‘This win-at-all costs sports creed, adopted by the Americans’.
      Whats your beef with americans?
      Its not like they pioneered country wide sports doping in the 60s- 80’s (hello eastern europe).
      More underhand USA bashing on the punch

    • RobJ says:

      09:13am | 09/02/13

      Obviously we learned to bowl underarm from the Americans! /sarc.

    • Julie Tullberg says:

      09:59am | 09/02/13

      No beef with Americans at all ... just citing the original source of the quote which has been adopted in American sport and worldwide. That’s a fact.

    • Graeme says:

      03:31pm | 09/02/13

      Without trying to bash the Americans, they do pay massive, even obscene, amounts of money for their elite sportsmen to perform. I guess when you have a team that you’re paying wages in excess of 200 million dollars a year, for example the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, you would definitely want to win, and extremely often, for that kind of investment.

    • B says:

      08:16am | 09/02/13

      The final two paras above are well spoken, insightful and long overdue.
      Re Australian Rules, the AFL has much to answer for and should do a damned thorough audit of themselves.They should stop trying to look like they are almighty pure with all their executives and constant, interminable changes that justify a gaggle of over-paid employees.

      The AFL collectively rules the lives of young men who want to play the sport they love. Young men know from primary school that if they ultimately don’t feel comfortable about being drafted to wherever the AFL decrees, they will never play elite football.  So young, immature males as young as 18 are “drafted” sometimes thousands of miles away from their family support networks to new cities where they are vulnerable and often exploited by various non-players.

      The AFL should know that watchful families are vital to young men’s mental and social development.  Ask any astute psychologist. The male brain does not properly mature until 25 years of age.

      The AFL’s draft policy has never been challenged. They rule. Their constant re-arranging the Australian game, their shipping immature young men to unfamiliar environments effectively breaks up families. It has destroyed suburban tribal connections to the game.  You grow up in Essendon, you hang around the club as a kid, you love the game, its club camaraderie, your interest and involvement as a youngster has kept you out of trouble. You know the local kids who love their local club, and you are attached to the local families.  It is your community. 

      If you are good enough, the AFL exports you say to the Gold Coast or the West Coast where you may feel miserably unhappy, but too ashamed to say so.  After all, you are supposed to be a “man”.  You don’t like the prevailing culture; you miss your family and friends and you are vulnerable.

      The AFL itself sped up the game to a pace so demanding that even the fittest, most dedicated young male battles weekly recovery and injuries never heard of in pre-AFL-controlled Australian football.  No wonder they think about recovery aiding supplements because they are constantly injured and their livelihoods depend on being available for selection.

      Then they endure an entire off-season in preparation or rehabilitating themselves from serious knee, ankle, stress fractures and all types of painful surgery. New types of serious injuries that were unheard of, pre-AFL organisation.

      The speed of the game (via AFL guided rule changes) is now so fast it can even be annoying to watch on television.

      The AFL should have acted to prohibit alcohol (a legal drug) into football venues. Once upon a time it was illegal for young people to be anywhere in the vicinity of alcohol sales and consumption.

      The AFL is largely to blame for the way that OUR game has come into question. I know these young men of today’s football are over-trained, over-advertised and exploited.  What a great pity that a family sport was turned into a greedy business, governed by a constantly rule changing, re-organising empire of overpaid self-righteous mandarins.
      . If you wind athletes up like springs to play a body contact game of unrelenting speed (refer to the AFL rule changes, interchanges and rapid kick-in after points are registered), you should not be surprised when the combatants snap.

      No wonder serious injuries occur every week. Supporters never know when their champions will be on the field, or how long they will stay there.

      They are sent onto the field physically fine tuned to an inhumane level. Then they are expected to withstand body blow after body blow, routine verbal tactics and expectations to perform week after week, or be dropped.  The fear of a career-ending injury is high in their minds. The AFL system is complicit in winding them up like springs. Should they react to onfield to provocation, or react defensively to some yobbo in the street,  the AFL publicly shames and punishes them with excessive fines. The AFL itself, by its very modus operandi, is part of the problem and the public should hold them as accountable as any other participant for the image and damage to OUR game.

      Several years ago an AFL “commissioner” opined that football is no longer a sport, it is entertainment.

      Well they sure have made an unholy show of it. They took charge of something good and ruined almost every aspect of it.

    • Nmac says:

      09:54am | 09/02/13

      NRL has become the same. Now it has so many people in executive seats they couldnt afford to give the players a pay rise for what they put their bodies through. They talk of drugs in the sport, they are part of the fault. ASADA is an organisation that should stand up and take their share of blame also. The NRL pays ASADA some $500k /yr to keep drugs out of the NRL by testing, looks like that money was a waste of time, the monies paid to them by government is also a waste as they apparently cant do their jobs.

    • StanleyG says:

      02:06pm | 09/02/13

      lm going off topic,but agree totally about the draft-get rid of it .The NRL has shown that the salary cap works well enough on its own to even out the competition.

    • RobJ says:

      08:41am | 09/02/13

      :The caption says:

      “I’m telling you, this game is NOT EASY!!”

      But that’s just it, it’s a game, it’s purpose is entertainment, it isn’t life and death! Lot’s of people have difficult (real) jobs where the stakes are far more relevant and important and they receive nothing like the financial rewards that AFL players get. Cheating is cheating and trying to rationalise it is pathetic!

    • bj says:

      09:23am | 09/02/13

      All professional athletes are taking supplements. ASDA will not guarantee any of them. It is not as though there are legal supplements, illegal supplements and a clear distinction between them.

    • GEV says:

      09:33am | 09/02/13

      What’s rotten is the ACC and the ministers involved. They’ve come out and unjustifiably smeared entire industries for something that increasingly looks like a storm in a teacup.

      Imagine if they came out and made similar statements in respect to politics. How well would that fly? It wouldn’t, because joking aside it would be completely unacceptable to besmirch every member of parliament on the basis of the corruption of some individuals (which almost certainly exists). Not only is it illogical, but it’s also unethical.

      There really should be some fallout back on the ACC and other relevant people over this, not for them doing their job, but for the hysterical way they’ve presented the situation. It’s absolutely bloody disgraceful.

    • Nmac says:

      09:40am | 09/02/13

      Funny how this only comes to light because betting agencies feel they are being ripped off. No one gave a toss until the multi-faceted betting came about. In the NRL, if they feel match fixing is going on, perhaps its time to look at referees who come out with the most astounding calls which change the games outcomes. Why focus only on the players and clubs? Surely, if criminal organisations are targeting match outcomes, the Refs would also be in their sights..

    • actaeon says:

      10:38am | 09/02/13

      Wow Julie, do you really believe that? So they get payed millions, treated like superstars, and given soft jobs on TV or in the club when they retire and we should feel sorry for them? They all know the risks, and get very well compensated for them. They are often described as ‘elite’ athletes… well, they have a great responsibility to play a clean game, otherwise they are dishonest cheats. Not elite anymore, they are trash criminals, and should be treated as such. Zero respect for anyone who is part of this. And we’ll hear excuses for sure. “They made me do it”, “everyone was doing it”, “they told me it was okay”... just wait. No, excuses, they are losers, cheats, skum! They shame themselves.

    • Geos Best says:

      12:10pm | 09/02/13

      Nothing really to get ones knickers in a twist over. Better stay focused on the countries ills and the goverment thst caused them rather than this distraction.

    • Rose says:

      01:01pm | 09/02/13

      Here’s an idea, let’s NOT show empathy to sports and drug cheats. Let’s draw a line in the sand and have an amnesty of say, one month, to allow any sports people to fess up. After that any sports person found to be cheating will be barred from playing professional sport for LIFE

    • Kipling says:

      01:09pm | 09/02/13

      It has always struck me as odd that drug testing occurs somewhat randomly and always after the event (event meaning in the case the actual game).

      That seems a flawed practice of itself.

      It would seem to me that the simple solution would be to standardise all testing to be done prior to any match/event and that it needs to be mandatory to all participants. If tests come back positive or under doubt, the individual is stood down for that match until investigation takes place. Pretty simple solution to a somewhat insignificant first world problem.

      Of course, another option to reduce crime options would be to remove money from the game as well. Let’s see how spectacular sport gets at grass roots level then. Sport is big business, as such it is going to attract the greedy and unscrupulous among others. Sadly, it will be the greedy and unscrupulous who will set the bar.

    • marley says:

      02:22pm | 09/02/13

      @Kipling - to have an effective drug testing regime,you have to include plenty of out-of-season random drug tests.  That’s the time when athletes drug up so they can train harder.  Armstrong got away with it so long because he wasn’t tested much, if at all, out of season, and by the time he’d got to the race, he had all the advantages of having used the drugs, with none of them left in his system.

    • gordie says:

      02:41pm | 09/02/13

      The funny thing I saw at the press conference was Kate Lundy looking down the camera with a stern face saying ’ If you take drugs we will catch you If you want to fix matches we will catch you’, instead of ‘If you have taken drugs we have caught you If you have been involved in match-fixing we have caught you’. Big difference.

    • Katie says:

      04:48pm | 09/02/13

      Why should we be giving them empathy? These thugs get paid rediculous amounts of money to run around and slam into each other, we should at least be seeing them do it legitimately.

      That’s the problem with putting sports stars up with a ‘hero’ status. Winning becomes everything. How can we show empathy to cheats? Pressure or not, there’s always a choice.

      I’m guessing some (unimportant) people will be sacked, players will be let off with slap on the wrist, and no-one will really pay the price for using drugs.


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