CJC-1295, Thymosin Beta 4, Actovegin, warfarin, cerebrolysin, melanotan – all substances alleged to have been taken by elite NRL and AFL footballers. The sports pages are beginning to look like a pharmacology textbook rather than a celebration of all that is good in sport. We have clearly created a monster, and it is time to rein it in.
If you offer any professional athlete a substance that he is assured by a trusted team employee will improve performance, will not have a detrimental effect on his health and is not on the WADA list, then the likelihood is that he will take it. Professional teams and individual athletes are always looking for a performance advantage. The fact that the second-most important (as reflected in salary) member of any football club after the head coach is the high-performance manager is evidence of the high priority placed on this area. The job of the high-performance manager is exactly that: to find ways of maximising performance.
The question is where to draw the line. One line is the WADA banned drug code, but as we have seen recently, new drugs, including some not even approved for human consumption, are always becoming available and the WADA code struggles to keep up. Hence the terminology included in the Prohibited List, which will in all likelihood lead to the downfall of Cronulla and Essendon, of ”any other growth factor affecting muscle, tendon or ligament protein synthesis/degradation, vascularisation, energy utilisation, regenerative capacity or fibre type switching”. That sentence pretty much covers any new performance-enhancing peptide.
Not only is the use of these various supplements ethically wrong, there are also real health dangers.
Here is an opportunity for these sports to draw a line in the sand. Let the sports administrators, coaches, players and supporters spell out quite clearly that we want premierships decided on the basis of skill, training and courage, not who has the latest, smartest supplement – legal or not.
I would love to see the AFL and the NRL say we are not prepared to tolerate this race for a chemical advantage any longer. Let’s ban all supplements or at least publish a list of acceptable supplements that clubs can use. All clubs, officials and players should sign a pledge agreeing not to use any substances that are not acceptable. No players could then come up with the excuse they didn’t know what they were taking. The penalties for breaking the pledge should be high.
If there were no chemical means of gaining a high-performance advantage then the high performance managers could concentrate – as many of them already do – on areas of fitness. The coaches could concentrate on skills and tactics, and clubs wanting to look for an advantage might explore the mental side of performance a little more deeply.
If this were to happen, supporters would know that the premiership will be won by the team that plays the best football.
Dr Peter Brukner is a sports physician and former AFL and Olympic team doctor.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.