Wendell. No, it’s not a mug shot though it might as well be
Yes, I know Wendell Sailor is a brainless dickhead, having apparently been caught with coke in his bloodstream after previously running foul of ARU rules on more than one occasion for alcohol-related behavioural infractions.
However, as far as I know Sailor hasn’t been accused this time of public conduct liable to bring the game into disrepute. I can’t help wondering why rugby union and other sporting codes bother to test for non performance-enhancing recreational drugs anyway? As this article explains, cocaine certainly doesn’t enhance athletic performance:
The few studies that exist suggest that little to no performance gains are incurred from cocaine and its amphetamine-like properties. Cocaine is notable for distorting the user’s perception of reality; for example, an athlete may perceive increased performance and decreased fatigue in the face of actual decreased performance in both strength and endurance activities.
Accordingly it doesn’t give users an unfair advantage, unlike steroids or human growth hormone. The same is true of cannabis. It’s unlikely that a sudden attack of the munchies or an overwhelming desire to lie down and listen to loud blues or Pink Floyd would be a plus in most sports.
On the other hand, there are clear potential health risks for athletes who use coke:
An increase in heat production combined with a decrease in heat loss associated with cocaine abuse impairs the body’s ability to regulate its temperature during physical activity.
“Competitive athletics increases the potential of cocaine’s powerful adverse cardiovascular stimulating effects,” according to Wadler, “namely, life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks, particularly in cigarette smokers.”
The list of adverse health effects of cocaine is long and affects many organ systems of the body. These effects include:
- Convulsions and seizures
- Chronic headaches
- Tremulousness and twitching
- Spontaneous abortions
- Chronic irritation of nasal membranes including perforation of the nasal septum
- Abnormal vision including blindness
- Sexual dysfunction
- Elevated blood pressure and pulse
- Hepatitis and AIDS in intravenous cocaine abusers
- Sudden death
With large amounts of cocaine or with repeated administration over time, cocaine users often exhibit bizarre, erratic or violent behavior. Euphoric effects are often displaced by restlessness, extreme excitability, insomnia, paranoia and the unmasking of underlying psychiatric disorders.
So maybe sporting bodies have some sort of quasi-parental obligation to deter their athletes from unnecessary risk-taking behaviour. But aren’t sportspeople legal adults capable of making up their own minds whether and to what extent they should ingest recreational drugs including alcohol? The nanny state is surely intrusive enough without having nanny sports administrators as well. If their habit impaired their sporting performance to a significant extent, no doubt they’d be dropped for poor form. But otherwise I fail to see why it’s any of their club or peak sporting body’s business.
Nor am I impressed by the argument that allowing professional sportspeople to take drugs gives a bad example to young fans. If they didn’t test for coke and cannabis, the young fans wouldn’t even know that some of their heroes have a propensity for chemical recreation. What is there about being a professional sportsperson that requires them to be moral paragons of wowserish behaviour? As long as they practise their chosen habits privately, I fail to see how it’s anyone else’s business at all.