You can tell we are in sport’s silly season – the football is over but the cricket has yet to begin – when a revelation about an entirely innocent drug test failure five years ago is the page one lead story in one daily newspaper and the lead sports story in another.
The Courier-Mail and the Daily Telegraph purchased the media rights for Shane Webcke’s biography, Warhorse – Life, Football and other Battles, and are entitled to get their money’s worth. But does a revelation that he failed a drug test for a drug administered while he was in hospital, on orders from a specialist, to prevent what could have been a serious consequence to a knee injury, warrant headlines like “Webcke Doping Horror”?
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at the media treatment of such a story, but it’s still disappointing, because it does Webcke an injustice.
Shane Webcke is not your usual sportsman. He has always been refreshingly frank on issues affecting rugby league and sport generally. He has never wavered from his belief that “players behaving badly” deserve little sympathy. (In a rugby league career spanning 11 years, 252 club matches, 21 origin matches and 20 test matches, Webcke made just one judiciary appearance. Not a bad record for a front row forward.)
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He is one of the most widely read, most articulate and shrewdest-thinking sportsmen of our time. He was able to choose the timing of his retirement because he does not need to rely on his substantial footballing income. He owns a farm, a hotel, apparently has substantial property holdings – and within days of his retirement after Sunday’s grand final signed a lucrative deal with the Seven Network.
And over the years he has donated substantial amounts of his own money to helping junior rugby league in the bush, something confirmed by Broncos’ coach Wayne Bennett In his forward to the book.
These are the qualities we should be celebrating today – not some manufactured frenzy about a drugs test that should have been a footnote, not a headline.