Phil Clarke looks at the wider implications of the latest high-profile failed drugs test to hit rugby league.
Last Updated: 25/06/09 2:39pm
It's not often that a rugby league story makes its way into the national news on a Tuesday in June, but Gareth Hock's failure of a drugs test was aired before the latest Wimbledon results.
His positive test for cocaine could cost him the next two years of his career. Sadly, he's not the first and he probably won't be the last. Athletes across all sports have been caught with traces of cocaine in their system.
Matt Stevens, the Bath and England rugby union player was another international player to suffer a similar fate, while Reni Maitua failed a drugs test this year having once represented Australia at rugby league.
Wendell Sailor played both league and union for the Green and Golds, and has recently returned to league after sitting out two years following the failure of a drugs test for so-called recreational drugs. At 34 years of age his return to St George-Illawara is an amazing recovery - this is a man who was strutting his stuff for the Brisbane Broncos as far back as 1993.
Closer to home, Ryan Hudson made a successful return to play and is even the captain of Castleford Tigers after the failure of a drugs test for performance-enhancing drugs, or steroids as they are more commonly called. He was forced to miss out the 2005 and 2006 seasons and then went on to play 54 games for the Huddersfield Giants before returning to the Tigers this year.
As a former player, I am amazed that it's possible to have two years out of the game and still be able to play at the highest level, and yet the examples I've listed above prove me wrong.
There are several examples of players who are forced to miss 12 months due to serious injury. A full knee reconstruction may mean that the player misses a complete season if his injury happens in the first week of the competition. I suppose a two-year drugs ban is just double that.
Is two years enough? I'm not an expert on drugs but feel there should be a different sentence for the use of 'recreational' to that for 'performance-enhancing' drugs. In my mind it's worse to 'cheat' by taking steroids than it is to use an illegal substance which has no positive effect on performance.
In no way do I condone the use of illegal substances, but there was a time not long ago when some 'recreational' drugs were legal. There was also a time when alcohol was illegal in the US!
It strikes me that a two year ban isn't a deterrent to players. If they want to take drugs then they do, and think that they'll never get caught. There are still some people who drink and drive despite the government campaigns or sentences incurred.
I've often wondered if clubs ever carry out any internal tests on their players and what they'd do if they found that a player had traces of cocaine in his A and B samples. Would they fine him or sack him or send him to therapy? I suppose much would depend on how good the player was.
What education takes place within the game? Who delivers this? Is a club responsible for this or is it an individual responsibility? A young window cleaner or bricklayer isn't taken on a course regarding drug education, so why should a similar aged rugby player be? We don't test the postman to see if he's taking cocaine so why do we test a rugby player? Would it be just as sensible to test school teachers?
It's clear that I don't have all the answers, I don't even know all the questions, but I'll miss watching Gareth Hock play. I hope that it's a 'light bulb' moment in his life and some good comes from it. I have no sympathy for Gareth or any other player who is found to be guilty of failing a drugs test. Everybody knows the rules now and has to suffer the consequences of their actions.
It will be very interesting to see if illegal drug use amongst players goes down on the back of this news. There are some sports who take hair samples from their athletes for drug-testing purposes. This is a more advanced testing system which can show if a player has taken any illegal substances over the previous year - not just the previous week. Will it make any difference?