NRL and ASADA: when did this become about unfairness?

I was listening to the Triple M rugby league show with Matthew Johns, among others, On Sunday afternoon and was more than a little irritated by the statement that ASADA’s proposed questioning of players who are alleged to have taken illegal substances was unfair particularly around State of Origin time. I was also irritated by the statement that the ASADA investigation was unfair on the Cronulla Sharks and that that was a reason for their poor start to the season.

This is not the first time I have heard these comments. Indeed from the rugby league I do watch and the commentary about it that I listen to and read it seems to be the prevailing opinion that ASADA has been grossly unfair in its investigation.

Firstly, I am in no way a defender of ASADA or the Crime Commission. I believe that the report issued jointly by them should have come AFTER an investigation into the use of illegal drugs in sport was finalised. This did not happen and now ASADA is investigating.

Secondly, it must be remembered that ASADA is a federal body investigating the illegal use of drugs in sport. If guilty the users will be suspended and, worse, condemned as cheats and worse still a game will be tarnished for years to come. They have not targeted anyone with malice or forthought, rather they are simply doing their jobs.

The stakes are obviously high and equally obviously ASADA needs to get its investigation right. If there is an allegation that is backed by some evidence then it is obvious that ASADA should, and in fact, must investigate. How is that in any way unfair? If the allegations are false then the players and club are cleared. If the allegations are true then, I repeat, the punishment will be severe.

Surely then those espousing the “unfairness” argument surrounding ASADA’s investigation would want them to investigate in their own time to ensure that: a. they get the investigation right; and b. if the club and players are innocent they are able to declare as much. An elongated investigation assists no one and only adds to the rumour and innuendo surrounding the code, the clubs and the players.

Would similar statements of unfairness be making made if the Sharks had have started the season 7-0 rather than 2-5? I am pretty sure the answer to that is no. There is empirical proof to back this: one only has to look at the conduct of the Essendon AFL club who are 5-0 and have been even more publicly embroiled in the drugs in sport controversy and the ASADA investigation. I mean the Bombers coach has been directly and personally implicated for goodness sake and they have continued to win.

I think the NRL and its players should consider themselves very lucky. In other jurisdictions sportsmen are stood down immediately upon an allegation of misuse of a banned substance made with the due process surrounding the investigation taking place AFTER the “ban” starts. The fact that the Sharks (and other teams’ players) are still able to play whilst under investigation should be seen as a postive for the NRL and indicative that they could be in a much worse position then they are now.

I believe that everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty. I equally agree that due process must be followed. The NRL’s “supporters” of the argument that ASADA is being unfair are seeking to change the rules of engagement by publicly arguing that the ongoing investigation is such. This victim mentality must stop because it is not serving anyone; NRL, players, media and ASADA alike well.

In fact I will go one step further: the NRL and its players MUST stop with its campaign to convince us that this investigation is unfair and they are victims in all of this because, simply, it is not and they are not. ASADA has a job to do and they should be allowed to do it without this unnecessary intervention.

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