The two stories, sitting alongside each other on the back page of today’s national daily, should give every sporting administrator in this country pause for thought — and especially those at Swimming Australia.

For on the day Swimming Australia decided to ban butterfly swimmer Nick D’Arcy from competing in this year’s world championships — having suspended him from the Beijing Olympics last year — news surfaced in Adelaide last night that one of Australia’s leading men’s cyclists, Jobie Dajka, had been found dead in his home after battling depression for several years. The cause of death has not yet been announced.

Dajka, 27, won a Commonwealth Games gold medal at the Manchester Games in 2002 in the teams sprint, and was the 2003 world championships kierin winner. But he was dumped from Australia’s team for the 2004 Athens Olympics just weeks before the Games for lying to a doping inquiry. His life began to fall apart after that, as he spiralled into a deep depression that lasted for much of the next three years.

In 2005 he was given a three-month suspended jail term for assaulting Australia’s head track coach, Martin Barras — an offence that also led to a three-year ban from professional cycling. Following the suspension, which was lifted in late 2006, Dajka admitted having serious alcohol-related and mental health problems.

And there’s the cautionary tale for Swimming Australia’s board. They are charged with acting in the sport’s best interests. But in handing down bans like this, they need to apply a bit of commonsense, not just slavishly follow the letter of the law. They are playing with young people’s lives and, as we constantly read, young people — for whatever reason — are increasingly unable to deal with difficult situations like this.

In Australia, suicide is now the leading cause of death by injury, ahead of car accidents and homicides. Suicide is approximately four times more prevalent in males than females, and it is most common in people aged 25-49.

Surely an Olympic Games ban was punishment enough for D’Arcy? In banning him from the world titles as well, SA is effectively penalising him twice for the same offence. In fact, he’s been punished three times if you take into account the suspended sentence of 14 months and 12 days handed down by a Sydney magistrate last month — and that’s not taking into account the toxic publicity he has attracted over the past year.

It was because of that court ruling that D’Arcy received a letter from Swimming Australia yesterday advising him that the SA board had unanimously voted to revoke his place on the Australian team to compete in Rome. It banned him under a team by-law which says a swimmer’s membership can be terminated if the team member is “convicted of a criminal offence”.

D’Arcy’s offence was unquestionably a serious one — assaulting fellow-swimmer Simon Cowley and causing him shocking facial injuries.

But, in delivering his sentence last month, Magistrate John Favretto said D’Arcy had “very good prospects of rehabilitation”. While his intoxicated state was not an excuse, it indicated D’Arcy’s actions were impulsive and unplanned and that his capacity to exercise judgment was impaired, the magistrate said.

For that one moment of rank stupidity, D’Arcy’s career — he won the national 200m butterfly in record time last week to qualify for the world championships — has been curtailed, and his life forever altered.

In what is now a tragic irony, Dajka said last year after D’Arcy was left out of the Olympic team that the swimmer would need to get medical help.

“I clearly didn’t. At the end of the day I turned into an animal and turned to drink to block out my own inner demons,” Dajka said.

“At my lowest ebb I was consuming three bottles of Scotch and six litres of wine a day before I found the courage to seek out proper psychological help.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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