Football, cricket to WADA: cocaine bans don’t work

London: The player unions representing footballers and cricketers in England have called for recreational drugs to be removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list.

Rather than punishing athletes who test positive for cocaine and marijuana during in-competition testing with a two-year ban for a first offense, the groups are appealing for leniency with a focus on rehabilitation.

“We have to make sure that a guy struggling with a problem can step forward and receive help to get that issue addressed without the possibility of being suspended or even worse than that, losing his contract,” John Bramhall, deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, told The Associated Press on Monday.

“For the number of players who have tested positive for cocaine, the consequences are far from performance-enhancing and the outcomes in the majority of cases have been very negative.”

Ian Smith, the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s legal director, agreed that recreational drug use isn’t usually about gaining an unfair advantage.

“Marijuana is not a big issue with cheating in sport let’s get it off the (WADA) list,” he said.

West Bromwich Albion striker Roman Bednar received a three-month suspension last year for possessing recreational drugs. In rugby union, England international Matt Stevens is currently serving a two-year ban for testing positive for cocaine on a match day.

In one of sport’s most notorious cases of recreational drug use, Romania striker Adrian Mutu was banned for seven months and fired by Chelsea after testing positive for cocaine in 2004. A lengthy legal process concluded earlier this year with a court ordering Mutu to pay Chelsea euro17 million (USD 27 million) in compensation.

Mutu is currently suspended after receiving a separate nine-month ban for failing two drug tests for a banned stimulant.

Bramhall wants football to be allowed to address the underlying social problems that lead to players using party drugs.

“We need to look at a method for football to deal with those issues, but take the sanctions and the punitive nature of those sanctions away from the players to give them the opportunity to do that,” Bramhall said on the sidelines of the Professional Players’ Federation conference in London.

“We accept that in some sports, cocaine could be used for performance-enhancing. But within football, I think it is a social issue more than anything else and the backgrounds players come from and the use in their social environments.”

The two players unions are in contact with the Football Association about trying to change the WADA rules.

“Footballers are targets today for (recreational drugs) because of the money they are earning, you want (rules) to try and act as a deterrent,” said Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football.

“You want them to get the treatment needed to get out of it. If the punishment is less, they have to go through a course of rehab and programs to make sure they don’t repeat it.

“Whatever you say, it will affect their performance. And you don’t want to make it too easy an excuse, that it’s only recreational drugs, because it’s still a serious issue.”

Smith says the status quo “seriously undermines what WADA is trying to achieve” in eradicating doping cheats and criticises the lack of athlete involvement in the process.

“The reason why marijuana is on the list is political,” Smith said. “WADA is a combination of government and sport and when you say sport, it is a very narrow part of sport. It’s the international federations, along with governments, and the international federations don’t give a monkeys about athletes, they don’t care.

“So if someone comes along and says, ‘Let’s have this code, these scriptures, these draconian measures,’ They say, ‘OK’ ... it doesn’t affect their day-to-day lives.”

Smith said it’s noteworthy that when addicts go to hospital following a heroin overdose, the medics don’t immediately call the police.

“The first thought is to treat them,” he said. “Why do we not do the same thing in sport?”

Bureau Report