I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while and now seems as good a time as any given the allegations about Tyson Fury testing positive for cocaine.
Each sport is governed differently of course so this is going to be pretty general, but by in large most sporting governing bodies don’t differentiate between performance enhancing banned substances and illegal recreational ones – but should they?
As it happens the World Anti-Doping Agency does treat some recreational substances differently and cocaine is not a banned substance when taken out-of -competition. The definition of “in-competition” and “out-of-competition” depends on the sport and the testing authority , which leaves things open to interpretation. Most PEDs are also banned out-of-competition and that is admittedly a tangible difference. Like I say, this is a general thing. In-competition cocaine use will get you a ban, and a big one. Hull City’s Jake Livermore was facing a two-year suspension but the FA, quite rightly, opted not to extend his ban due to exceptional circumstances. French tennis player Richard Gasguet had a two-and-a-half month suspension after a positive cocaine test, which ruled he had consumed “no more than a grain of salt”, which probably happens when you watch ‘Narcos’ on Netflix.
My argument is Livermore, Gasquet and others shouldn’t really have even had to deal with that anyway.
‘Fun’ drugs shouldn’t be regarded in the same way as PEDs, in or out of competition. My key point is they simply don’t give a competitive advantage, sticking with boxing and marching powder as it is the topic du jour – if you think there is an advantage in being coked up during a professional fight you’re wrong (not that Fury necessarily was/has been of course). The booger sugar might feel like a boost when you’re throwing fists with someone who’s just spilled your drink in the Dog and Duck; but in a ring, where you need your wits about you and a cool, calm head it is not an advantage. Unless you’re an animal type fighter like Mike Tyson… that kid was a rare breed though.
Team sports are different, granted. The individual is employed by the club and being a stoner, space cadet or a raver is going to impact on performances. Sanctions in this case should come from the club, I see no real reason why governing bodies need to get involved in such issues.
Employers in sport do have the right to fire any player (not employee – player) if they are using recreational drugs. I cannot argue against that. If you own an NBA franchise and are paying someone $15million+ a season – you get to tell that guy he can’t smoke weed. That’s fair enough, essentially the athlete’s physical prowess is part of the deal and they have a responsibility to ensure they’re in top form. That doesn’t mean it should be an obligation because no one would axe LeBron James for rocking up tripping on magic mushrooms. However, to get sacked and then face time out due to a governing body, that seems unnecessary for substances that have no positive impact on performance.
Maybe I’m too liberal, maybe not. I don’t really believe in prohibition as a concept or an effective method. I just don’t think it works and there’s enough evidence to back up that viewpoint (see further reading, have a google). People will do what they want to do at the end of the day legal issues aside, I doubt there are many teetotallers out there who would be full blown smack fiends if heroin wasn’t outlawed, for example.
I’m fully aware there are other issues too. Sports stars are supposed to be ‘role models’, whatever that really means, by keeping on the straight and narrow, but drugs are a part of everyday life for many people, whether or not they realise it. Is drug abuse any more immoral than cheating on a partner? Using prostitutes? Violence? I would say no, but hookers and fisticuffs probably won’t leave your career in tatters (examples include; alleged call girl user and England captain Wayne Rooney and Watford striker Troy Deeney, who was found guilty of assault in 2012).
You could club alcohol and tobacco in with recreational drugs and arguably they’re as, if not more, detrimental to health and performance than the likes of marijuana, MDMA, cocaine… but because they’re not illegal there are no real sanctions in or out of competition. Having the odd night on ecstasy in-competition is probably no more damaging than hitting the booze but the drink is fine and the pills are not. If a sportsperson is using a substance and as such ruins the experience for the fans with sub-par performances that’s not on, obviously, but if they can still entertain and get results… what’s the big deal?
There is an argument that people in other walks of life would get sacked for drug taking but not in all areas. I’ve had jobs before where bosses do lines with members of staff on nights out (and to ‘recover’ the day after) and where one employee seems like he’s there specifically to act as a dealer, with the odd bit of photocopying and tea making on the side due to ineptness in every other relevant area.
I’m not going to bother with a conclusion, I think I’ve expressed my opinion well enough throughout so I’ll leave it with some optional further reading. Good luck to Tyson Fury as well, it looks like he’s got a long road ahead of him but no one can take away the fact that for a brief period he was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. I’ll finish by pointing out that failing a drugs test for cocaine out-of-competition is more widespread than you’d imagine, but mostly it doesn’t get mentioned as bans won’t happen. As the heavyweight champion of the world however, and being the divisive figure he is, Tyson Fury should have been more careful.
Reasons to legalise all drugs via Urban75.
Photo Credit: My buddy Dave.
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