The much-publicised drug scandal, involving a number off AFL and NRL teams, has damaged the respective brands, casting a dark cloud over the future of many elite players. It is important therefore to consider how has this crisis will affect the next generation of football stars.
It seems that despite these young people viewing players like Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton as heroes, they also see the inherent danger in taking banned substances to further their careers.
Playing for Spotswood in the WRFL, Jordan Witte believes that the fact that this scandal is not as widespread as in other sports will deter young people from doping.
“It would require a more widespread doping scandal and more people to be regularly injecting themselves for kids to go ‘Oh well hang on now we probably need to give ourselves peptides, someone hold this tourniquet.’
“If you’re talented enough you will make it to the AFL, and those who do not are not necessarily going to attempt to inject themselves with PEDs just to have another crack at it.”
He was surprised at how pre-meditated the drug use was at Essendon and the scandal has shown him the lengths that football clubs will go to for success.
“I was always under the impression that there was a drug culture in the AFL – that is to say, a recreational one – but not a systematic, club sanctioned doping regime.”
Despite thinking that the next generation of sportsmen and women are safe from doping, Jordan still points to a significant lack of drug education at the junior level.
“In terms of young people, no I do not think there is enough education regarding drugs and their dangers. It still has a lot to do with upbringing and the way you’re raised.
“I had a solid upbringing where I was educated on why drugs were bad, and as such I would never consider it.”
A man who has been involved in the intense coverage of this scandal, Age football writer Rohan Connolly has some concerns about how young athletes will view their sports idols and the process in which they make a professional living.
“I guess the danger is that young kids at junior level might think that they are required to go to inordinate levels to make it to the elite level of the game, and the bizarre nature of some of the treatments being talked about might have the sub-conscious impact of making the AFL seem another world altogether from the sort of football with which they are involved.”
At the same time, he believes that the experimenting at an elite level will be cut dramatically due to the possible ramifications.
“Another positive to emerge from this is surely that the ‘pushing of the envelope’ when it comes to sports science in football will be scaled back, as patently, the potential dangers are not worth the risk.”
One young man who did not bend the rules to try and get drafted was Trent Jackson, a criminology student who tried to make it to the AFL but was ultimately unsuccessful.
He witnessed firsthand the amazing level of fitness and elite skills that are needed to make the leap from local footy to the big leagues. Even if the knowledge of peptides and other substances were common knowledge at the time, he still maintains he would not have caved in.
“I have always been a firm believer in the fact that you should perform to the best of your natural abilities. For me it is an ethical thing, just knowing I have cheated would play on my mind and negate and boost I was given by the banned substance.”
However, he does believe that it is only a matter of time before young hopefuls may take a chance on these controversial supplements. His reasoning for this drug use will not be for enhanced performance in particular, but for helping overcome other obstacles in the drafting process.
“Anyone with a bit of knowledge on performance enhancing drugs would know the major benefit for AFL players lies not in increases in strength, but a quicker recovery time.”
His stance on drug use is clear but he says that the lack of concrete information and proof from the AFL and ASADA keeps him sceptical about the whole scandal.
“The scandal has only mentioned names, but still lacks the credibility of any hard evidence. They have said the findings are due to be released in late August, but essentially all they have done to date is just talked tough and pointed fingers at some clubs, without really telling us that much.”
So how do we dissuade our future champions from taking the easy path and injecting themselves with a cocktail of anti-obesity drugs, peptides and any other chemical enhancement they can get their hands on?
“I think it needs to be medical people associated with football specifically rather than ASADA or WADA people, as the breadth of sports they are dealing with can make it all seem a little too far removed from the world of the suburban footballer. And there are plenty of AFL club doctors who also have plenty of dealings with players at lower levels and are across their particular circumstances,” Rohan Connolly says.
An interesting point of view is one that brings together both the journalistic perspective and the perspective of the youth. Both of these viewpoints can be found in LaTrobe University student Ben Cuzzupe.
The journalism student and football diehard has been thoroughly invested in the scandal, delving into the masses of information from a number of reports and other documents. He places much of the blame for this situation on the medical staff at the clubs, not the player themselves.
“My perception of AFL players has been altered by the fact few seem to be suspicious of what is given to them by fitness staff.”
His understanding of the current facts has brought him to the realisation that club officials and coaching staff have shown a lack of leadership, and players a lack of initiative.
“From what is been pieced together so far, it is clear that Essendon players did not consult ASADA, or an external physician, over what was being administered to them last year. I think naivety have been shown by some of them.”
The grassroots level of football and the draft processes are vital to the success of the AFL and Ben wants a streamlined set of precautions put into place to prevent drug cheats.
“At the draft as well as at AFL level, I would introduce biological passport testing. It’s the closest thing to being fool proof. When it comes to lower leagues, I would increase penalties and raise the stakes.
“There needs to be a perception of much more risk involved in taking these supplements. At this point in time, no one has been suspended or sacked, so young people will have the thought that they can still get away with it.”
Until the final charges are laid and sanctions are handed out, we will not know the full impact of the drug use by the clubs involved.
The most important thing that must come out of this saga is the increased drug education for the next generation. In the near future, we want our football stars to be clean and out there setting an example for the kids who idolise them.