Sunday, September 02, 2007

Andrew Johns, Football and Drugs

Drugs in sport are nothing new. Some sports have had the legitimacy of whole events questioned. Cycling's Tour de France and other endurance races have been the subject of individual and team doping for some years.

This week's revelation and cathartic confession by Andrew Johns that he did take drugs, including ecstacy, during competition times; that he ran the gauntlet of drug testing; and that others in his team, club and family knew of his drug-taking brought many comments. Today's news stories are that he not only suffered from depression, but the more serious bipolar disorder, and was/is taking medication for it. However there are still questions to be asked, and actions to be taken. Johns has admitted that drugs are not the only problem; alcohol abuse is another. Many would believe such abuse is common among footballers (soccer, AFL, rugby league and rugby union). One of the last things a person suffering depression needs is a depressive drug like alcohol.


  • what responsibility does a player have to inform their club of psychological problems that could affect their performance? (Johns admitted that some days he went through the motions of playing)
  • what responsibility does a club have in promoting and ensuring responsible use of alcohol (not more than 6 standard drinks (4 schooners only) in any 24-hour period; and at least 2 days a week without alcohol)? Alcohol is often provided in vast quantities after important games - win or lose! Should restrictions on alcohol use be part of every player's contract?
  • what responsibility does the NRL bear in its testing regimen? Should players be tested on weekends, after playing Friday night? Out-of-season testing? Just how far does the NRL go in testing?
  • how much will his near and extended family have to do to support him?

Andrew Johns will need the support of many people: his doctors, family, friends, his club and the NRL. Most of all, he will need help to avoid the circumstances that lead to taking excessive amounts of alcohol and drugs. He will have to avoid nightclubs, late-night outings at pubs and clubs without a sober minder. I hope he can do it - but I despair that he can't: behaviours learnt from a football culture that includes binge drinking and playing-up from teenage years will be extraordinarily hard to change.