I have a 7 year old son- he absolutely loves AFL football, owns a selection of 12 team jerseys, watches as many games as he can live or on TV. He knows all the players by name, runs around the house, kicks the ball, spins, weaves and self-commentates in between destroying the furniture! He has a favourite team, and every game wears a jersey of the team he supports on the day and tries as hard as he can to emulate the skills and efforts of his heroes. He wants to be “a Carlton footballer when he grows up” but this week he asked me a question that sent a chill through me-
“Dad, if I want to be a footballer, does that mean I have to get needles every week like the Essendon players did?”
Now before you accuse me of supposition and innuendo- it has been well established that this team did engage in a program of supplementation throughout 2012 that did involve players receiving multiple injections weekly. And yes, my son knows this because not only does he love watching AFL, he loves listening to all the programs that breakdown the game week by week. It would be hard for him not to know what happened in AFL season 2012, given all the media attention. However my son’s question is not so naive- indeed its a very good question and one I that I cant help reflecting hasn’t been asked before. With the current state of play, a team taking our countries national sporting drug testing agency (charged by sport in Australia with the job of ensuring “fair play”) to the federal court to dismiss evidence- Im wondering what this is teaching my son?
When did we as a society lose sight of the concept of fair play in sport that we have people willing to defend the need to have players injected multiple times in order to “play” sport? Indeed, I’m totally at loss to understand how otherwise extremely fit, healthy young sportsmen can happily receive regular non-medical injections as part of their regular physical preparation and not think something is amiss. Have our ethics and integrity as a society become so blinded by the desire to win that we consider a program of non- medical injections acceptable? If a whole team of players are indeed healthy, what is the rationale behind a regular injecting program of supplementation if it is not to improve performance?
As the parent of a young child who would love nothing more than to grow up to play AFL like his sporting heroes, what do I tell him?
“Yes son, if you want to be the best, leave no stone unturned, and that includes getting regular injections”.
As a lifetime supporter of sport, and someone who has worked within the field of sports medicine for 25 years I can’t help but feel somehow that the current situation indicates we, as a society, have lost our way in respect to integrity and ethical decision making around sport. I hope my son, as he grows, has been empowered to ask “why?”, has the ability to make informed decisions and the strength of character to disagree when presented with situations where requested actions do not meet with his sense of ethics, fair play and sense of self. I hope my son, if he makes a mistake, is man enough to say “sorry, how can I make amends?”, rather than look to blame others, look to loopholes in the methods for which his mistake was discovered, and forces injunctions aimed to deflect and hide from the fact that he has made an error. I hope my son learns from his mistakes, grows from his mistakes and becomes a better person. I hope my son understands that success in sport requires discipline, dedication, hard work and effort; success does not come as result of a pharmaceutical “arms race” dependant on who has the best “secret” supplement regime. I hope my son realises that, in this case, sport isn’t life, and that sport, in the spirit of “fair play” can embody all that is great about human endeavour. For these reasons I’m not going to be discussing “needles for football” with my son, because I’m sure it wont teach him to be the man either he or his father would wish for. And that, unfortunately, is a lesson I wish those trying to defend the happenings in AFL in 2012 would understand. It’s not about the sport- its about your ethics, integrity and sense of fairness.