It has taken a while, but in announcing the withdrawal of his appeal against a two-year drugs ban Wendell Sailor sent the right message to other sportspeople and now deserves the chance to get on with life.
But it took just 24 hours to show that won’t be easy – the organisers of a touch football competition being held this weekend were forced to drop Sailor from one of the teams, reportedly at the insistence of sponsors.
Sailor’s decision to abandon his appeal again highlights the duplicitous approach of major sporting bodies to so called non-performance enhancing drug offences.
The ARU handed Sailor a two-year – and probably career-ending – ban yet players in rugby league and the AFL can get away with what amounts to no penalty at all for similar offences.
Take the case of the Cowboys’ Mitchell Sargent. He tested positive to cocaine in a random testing exercise undertaken by the club. The club axed him, but within weeks the Newcastle Knights were allowed to sign him for the 2007 season – the effect of which is that he was suspended for about three weeks.
The NRL will early next year confirm its uniform policy on illicit drugs, and it is bound to be a replica of the AFL policy – a “three strikes and you’re out” approach, where a player is not named until his third offence.
What is not in doubt is the need for a uniform approach. What is in doubt is whether the proposal is a sufficient deterrent.
Is it a deterrent to allow players to test positive to illicit drugs twice, not be named, and undertake little more than what is “counselling”? And even after the third offence the proposed penalties provide for a 12-month ban – whereas some clubs currently have bans for one offence, and in the case of a minority such as the Cowboys, a zero tolerance policy.
One gets the impression the NRL is following the AFL policy because there is security in numbers, given that the Federal Government, and ASADA, have a lukewarm approach to the AFL policy.
The inconsistency in the approach between ASADA testing and individual sport or club testing simply must end. And it needs to be a consistent approach across codes and sports.