Forget Lance Armstrong, forget WADA and USADA, forget Dwayne Chambers, the Russian doping scandal and the IAAF. Performance-enhancing drugs may still endure most sports, yet there remains a similar and ever-present problem compounding all sports; recreational drugs.
In 2015, Jake Livermore of Hull City Football Club failed a drug test for Cocaine, Aaron McCary of Wolverhampton Wanderers tested positive for an unnamed substance, and Jose Baxter of Sheffield United failed for Ecstasy.
In Quarter Three of 2015/16, UKAD (UK Anti-Doping) have also reported that 25% of failed drug tests were for stimulants. These include Cocaine, Ecstasy and Amphetamines, and the sports ranged from Rugby League and Union, to Cycling and Rowing.
There is nothing wrong with sportsmen and women celebrating a victory or drowning their sorrows upon defeat, however, as with many citizens, recreational drugs like Cocaine, Cannabis and Ecstasy retain an allure for the athletic elite of society.
Adrian Mutu (Cocaine), Diego Maradona (Cocaine, Cannabis), Frankie Dettori (Cocaine), Ian Botham (Cannabis), Mark Bosnich (Cocaine), Lee Bowyer (Cannabis), Andre Agassi (Methamphetamine), Michael Phelps (Cannabis), and Snooker Hero Jimmy White (Crack Cocaine) are all high-profile cases of substance misuse at the top level of sport and it would be naive to assume the problem has gone away.
Twelve years ago, Adrian Mutu admitted to playing ‘high on cocaine’, according to the Evening Standard following a battle with depression.
Ten years ago, the Daily Mail ran the headline, ‘drugs and cricket have been together a long time’, and cases regarding Shane Warne, Ian Botham and Dermot Reeve serve to vindicate such a statement.
2009 saw 14-time Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps caught under the spotlight for smoking Cannabis. At a party in the University of South Carolina, Phelps, 23 years of age at the time, was pictured using a Bong – paraphernalia for Cannabis. Five years on and following a three-month suspension for the Cannabis incident, Phelps was admitted into a six-week, in-patient rehabilitation facility for alcohol.
In January of 2011, former England Rugby Union prop, Matt Stevens returned to the game he loves following a two-year ban for Cocaine.
Stevens was quoted saying at the start of his ban in 2009, ‘I’d had such high standards and I wasn’t reaching them… There were also some major personal issues and one way I dealt with it all was to seek oblivion, try to escape. I did that by getting very drunk and taking cocaine, which gave me a release.’
‘The ironic thing about it was that I would do it, then spend the whole week hating myself for doing it and play badly, because I’d done it. Then I would do it again because I hadn’t played well. There was lot of self-loathing and it was a vicious circle.’
Whilst in June 2013, Frankie Dettori resumed Horse racing following a six-month ban for Cocaine use. Dettori told Channel 4 News ahead of his expected return that he took the drug in a “moment of weakness”.
“Things were going bad, I was depressed and I guess [in] a moment of weakness I fell for it and I’ve only got myself to blame,” said the former champion.
Dettori had previously been cautioned for possession of cocaine when he was an apprentice jockey in 1993, but asserted that it was not an addiction. “You feel low and perhaps you want to escape the reality of life… I’ve only got myself to blame, I can’t blame anyone else. It was Sod’s Law, I did the wrong thing at the wrong time”.
Whatever your views on recreational drug use, they remain controlled and illegal for a reason. Nevertheless, it is often forgotten and neglected in the media and a secondary concern in sport, yet the factors leading to its usage need to be treated better.
Sportsmen and women are citizens just like us and deserve support just like us, however they feel obliged to hide away from the spotlight and seek help in the shadows due to their elevated status in society. They turn to drugs for help; a self-medication to escape from their suffering. This is understandable of course, but imagine the message it would send to people across the country and across the world. A message that it is acceptable to struggle, it is acceptable to suffer, it is acceptable to get support. Recreational drug misuse is nothing to be ashamed of as we all struggle to cope with reality, and it is about time society takes note. Sport can lead the way.
Sport is an industry based on human consumption, and it would be a significant precedent if it were to allow participants at the highest level to speak openly about their mental health and usage without fear of reprimand. Drug testing results should be widely accessible to all and so should drug support. UKAD (UK Anti-Doping) claims it is protecting sport, but who are protecting the athletes?
Let me leave you with these words from Matt Stevens said back in 2009, ‘If you look at society as a whole, there is a massive drug culture among all of it, so why wouldn’t there be in rugby?’ he says. ‘Rugby players aren’t immune to drug abuse, just like they aren’t immune to anything else.’