If nothing else, 2007 will be remembered as the year when sport lost its fight against drugs. When the tsunami crashed over the ramparts and deluged us all.

It was the year when drugs, both recreational and performance-enhancing, moved out of the nightclubs, back alleys and BALCO laboratories and entered Australian middle-class mainstream life.

On the sporting arena, the scourge destroyed both careers and lives. Indeed, 2007 will go down in sport’s annals as one which plumbed new lows, an annus narcoticus, when leading figures in a variety of sports were found to have been using performance-enhancing or recreational drugs at the peaks of their careers. As a result, legends have been shattered, reputations sullied, lives lost.

The revelations have come one after another, shock after shock, so much so that now there is no shock left to give. It has been replaced by a resigned sigh:

  • In cycling, the 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis lost his appeal against a positive drugs test and was stripped of his title;
  • In athletics, Marion Jones admitted to taking steroids prior to her five-medal haul at the Sydney Olympics. One of BALCO’s star customers, Jones was banned from the sport for two years and stripped of her medals;
  • Prior to the start of the AFL season, West Coast’s former captain Ben Cousins checked himself into a Malibu rehab clinic after admitting – kind of – to a substance abuse problem. Hurried back onto his field of dreams too early, without having been cured of his ills, Cousins reoffended and now finds himself without a club and a career;
  • In rugby league, Andrew Johns, once the code’s pin-up boy and many people’s choice as the game’s greatest player, admitted to taking ecstasy and other drugs for the last 10 years of his career;
  • In rugby union, Wendell Sailor served the first half of his two-year suspension for cocaine use last year;
  • In cricket, Pakistani pair Shoaib Akhtar and golden boy Mohammad Asif were given two- and one-year bans, respectively, for testing positive to the banned steroid nandrolone.

In their respective sports, they are some of the greatest and most recognizable practitioners. They have been poster boys and girls around which their sports have marketed campaigns. They have been athletes admired and idolized by a generation of children. Now they are revealed as straw heroes, their feats tarnished forever.

And still the accusations keep coming. Olympic swimmer Elka Graham claimed this week in a Sunday newspaper column that an elite swimmer offered her a performance-enhancing drug, and boasted of its benefits, while the pair was training for Athens in 2004. Yet, shamefully, she has chosen not to reveal the culprit’s identity. By her silence, Graham is protecting a drug cheat.

But sport was not the only area to suffer. Drugs also infiltrated the establishment. In May, leading Melbourne silk and one-time Melbourne Football Club board member Peter Hayes was found unconscious in an Adelaide hotel room and died days later from the effects of a drug overdose. A pillar of the legal community, he was married to a daughter of former Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen. Hayes’ death prompted a fellow Melbourne QC, Peter Faris, to say drug use was rife among Melbourne’s senior lawyers – although this claim was shouted down.

Death, too, came to Chris Mainwaring, a former West Coast champion and friend of Cousins, who passed away in Perth three weeks ago at the age of 41. A toxicology report indicated Mainwaring had cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and anti-depressants in his system when he died.

If anyone was ever naïve enough to think that “recreational drugs” were the domain only of the bikies, musicians and failed arts students in nightclubs, and that performance-enhancing substances were the province of BALCO clients and eastern bloc laboratories, think again. They are everywhere. A nod, a wink, a greased palm and they’re yours for the using.

Of course, the drug scourge has always been there, lurking in the shadows, striking down the weak-willed, impressionable and hopelessly ambitious. But 2007 marked the year when drugs gained a foothold in sport and mainstream life like never before. Fortified by steroids and synthetic supplements, it’s a grip that’s going to be awfully hard to prise loose.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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