Very few rugby league and anti-drug agency officials are emerging with any credibility from the daily revelations of just how widely and for how long the alcohol and drugs problems facing Andrew Johns have been known.
It seems that just about every official and player either knew or had an idea, but with just one exception, didn’t want to know and therefore did nothing about it.
After four days of headlines the following have been found seriously wanting:
- The Newcastle Knights Rugby League Club. The explanations from Knights officials have been woefully inadequate. The club has long had the weakest drug testing regime in the NRL. Johns knew that, and he knew that his chances of being caught were minimal.
- The Newcastle Knights Medical Advisor, Dr Neil Halpin. At the weekend he revealed he has been treating Johns for alcohol and drug issues since 2002. He said he tried to “tip” Knights officials (claiming patient confidentiality prevented him from formally advising the club). When the club did not take the hint, why didn’t Halpin insist that the club introduce random testing? Or approach the Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority to do so?
- The Australian Rugby League and the NRL. Former test player Gorden Tallis has confirmed that he complained about rampant drug abuse by a minority of the 2002 Kangaroos team (including Johns) in the UK. Nothing serious was done about it. Today the ARL has come up with an excuse befitting its status as the least credible sporting bodies in Australia. For subsequent tours the ARL hired a former UK detective to “chase away” drug pushers. The worrying aspect is that the statement was issued in all seriousness!
- The Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority (ASADA) appears to be in a unique category of its own … it simply did not know! That raises very serious questions about the effectiveness of this much-trumpeted federal government agency. Surely it did more than carry out the minimal number of scheduled tests – the timing of which was so predictable that Andrew Johns knew that when he was playing “Russian Roulette” by taking drugs during the season his chances of being caught were close to zero? Doesn’t it have an “intelligence gathering” unit so it can target sportsmen and women allegedly using drugs?
The one person who is emerging with any real credit — apart from Tallis — is Matthew Johns, the high profile brother of Andrew.
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It has now emerged that when he saw his brother’s first statement that someone had “popped a pill in his pocket” in London, he made it very clear that the time had come for Andrew to own up completely. That is why Andrew Johns went on the Footy Show that night.
But for Matthew Johns’ intervention, the issue might have been swept under the carpet, at least until his “tell all” biography is released later this year.
But the officials who have covered up, turned a blind eye, and neglected their duty don’t owe Johns an apology — they owe one to the tens of thousands of boys and girls who play rugby league, and who must today be troubled by the events of the last four days or so. They are the real victims, and it’s time officials, coaches, and senior players put their welfare above all else.