The finger of blame: drugs and corruption in sport and the fans who let it happen
Jason Clare says the ACCC findings will disgust Australian sports fans...but the only reason they could surprise us is because we were too lazy to ask questions. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The finger of blame will be pointed in many places following Thursday's revelations that drug use and corruption are widespread in Australian sport.
The (increasingly) massive amounts of money associated with professional sport. Greedy clubs, coaches and players. Sporting bodies and governments in bed with betting agencies.
But at some stage we - and by that I mean anyone who actively follows a sport and/or a sporting team - are going to have to turn that finger around and point it at ourselves.
The relevant question here is this: to what extent have we all been complicit in all of this?
Last week, just before something of a perfect storm for sporting scandal (the ACC revelations and Essendon's woes here; European soccer match-fixing and fairly bizarre US steroid alternatives there), I read something that really resonated with me.
I recommend you take 10 minutes to read it yourself. It is ballsy. It is confronting. It is, no doubt, partly facilitated by US freedom of speech laws. And it is based around the premise that if so many sports fans are discussing rumours of performance enhancement, why isn't it also being discussed in the mainstream media?
The problem in Australia is that most sports fans haven't even gotten to that point yet.
Think of the cutting edge sports science tales we simply accept without asking an obvious follow-up question. Such as: OK, so those are the radical things they are doing that are legal, what are the radical things they are doing that maybe aren't quite so legal?
Team A spends millions to train at high altitude during the off-season? Brilliant idea. Player X travels to Europe to have calves' blood injected into his hamstring? Modern medicine is an amazing thing. Player Y returns from a 10-week injury after missing only two games? That's one tough dude. Player Z runs 15 kilometres in an AFL game despite being a 110-kilogram ruckman? What a supreme athlete.
Very few of us - or at least not nearly enough of us - have stopped to say "how the hell did he actually do that?" or, just as importantly, "what other things are you doing to get the best out of our team this year?".
You could hardly say the warning signs haven't been there - and for some time.
As long ago as 2001, the Brisbane Lions were using saline drips (subsequently banned) to help hydrate players at half-time. The 2003 Lions used 18 vials of painkillers just to get through a (successful) grand final against Collingwood. Justin Charles - to date the only (now, there's a joke!) AFL player suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drug - was busted way back in 1997. Three WAFL players in the past three years (two of them AFL hopefuls) have been banned for steroid use. Marking forwards using gloves - some of them now outlawed - to help the ball stick to their hands. Top golf players, just to break from the footy theme, used beta blockers to steady nerves over putts in the early 1990s.
We've known for years that sporting clubs would push the envelope on maximising performance about as far as it could legally be pushed.
And yet we - and the sports media, ostensibly fans who have the privilege of reporting on something they love, have at least partial membership of that collective - have largely cocooned ourselves in the myth that systemic drug cheating was something for Eastern Europeans athletes, Chinese swimmers or bike-riding American cancer survivors.
I'm not sure how Thursday's revelations will impact on the sporting story we love most of all: the fairytale against the odds.
On one hand, there's a sound reason nobody reads traditional fairytales once they pass the age of 10. If something seems to good to be true, it probably is and I can assure you, from my own gardening experiences, that Jack isn't climbing no beanstalk without some serious 'roid-based fertiliser.
On the other, kids start out reading fairytales for a precursor of the same reason I watched Notting Hill the other night at age 35: the hope Julia Roberts might walk into my travel bookshop, end up with orange juice on her T-shirt (OK, so I've skipped a few plot points there) and be wowed by my apricot-in-honey one-liners.
Where are Thursday's revelations going to end?
Well, I suspect there are going to be a few less optimists (a lonely life, anyway!) and few more realists (can pessimists appreciate company?). Maybe Claremont, as Foxtel Cup premier, will get promoted to the AFL.
At the very least we should be talking.
And that, thanking heaven for small mercies, is some kind of start.