Amateur dramatics or not, testing is here to stay

As sure as night follows day, you knew it was coming, writes Brendan O’Brien

Amateur dramatics or not, testing is here to stay

And there it was, within minutes of the news earlier this week that a Gaelic football player had been banned for two years for failing a drug test: the small, self-righteous wing of the GAA family taking to their keyboards to wail about how disgraceful it was that the men who play our national games should be subjected to such draconian rules in the first place.

‘Shur, aren’t they only amateurs?’ was the gist.

You’ll have heard it all before: how these lads — and isn’t it always the lads? — can’t be expected to adhere to such minute and unforgiving levels of control when they’re holding down full-time jobs or studying in college while playing a bit of ball or hurling for nothing more than an untainted love of the national games.

The argument always hugs the same lines: that it is simply not fair to expect our 2,000 or so inter-county players to have the time or wherewithal to avoid the thousands of substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency when these guys have jobs and families and, who knows, maybe even a pet that needs feeding twice a day and a lawn that needs cutting come the summer, too.

It’s painfully one-eyed stuff.

First of all, of course, everyone has a family. A bombshell, we know, so take a moment to digest that one. Drugs may be rife in other sports across the world, but there has yet to be a top-class athlete fashioned from the minds of boffins and the petri dishes of a scientific lab that we are aware of, so no-one is an island.

And anyway, we would argue that the majority of GAA players and elite athletes around the world actually don’t have an abundance of little ones crawling around their ankles with nappies that need changing or teeth that are teething. Sports people at the elite level are, after all, recognised as a particularly selfish bunch.

They’ll tell you that themselves. Weddings are spurned, christenings cursed and even lengthy, late-night stints on an X-Box or the like have to be passed up in order for this group of people to perform at a level the rest of us can only dream of. So, families for the vast majority of them tend to be something of a no-no.

Secondly, and please excuse us if you’ve read this here before, but it obviously needs repeating, GAA players are clearly not the only amateur sportspeople attempting to reach the summit of their codes. Even the majority of those athletes who receive funding from the government through the Irish Sports Council (ISC) are scraping by and a fair few are holding down jobs at the same time.

So, factors of time, finances or family simply don’t cut it.

Like everyone else, GAA players have access to information on the issue of drugs and anti-doping, whether that be through conversations with team doctors and other medical personnel attached to the squad or through the ISC’s MedCheck app which, as with all things associated with smartphones, has made simple a matter which a few short years ago would have been the proverbial pain.

“All you have to do is whip out your phone and type something into it,” said Limerick hurler Paudie O’Brien last month. “It couldn’t be easier than that. That’s not a problem. We actually had it put on our players’ WhatsApp group, but I had heard of it before … I can only speak from a Limerick perspective and we are very good in-house here. Our doctor and medical team are very good.”

The list of excuses offered by athletes down the years for failing drug tests has been as long as it has laugh-out-loud. Too much sex or whiskey and the use of male enhancement products are just some of the pleas to have been offered. One South Korean footballer, banned just days ago for 15 weeks, even blamed his use of a moustache-growing cream.

For the young man from Monaghan who finds himself under an unenviable spotlight this week, none of this is a reason for mirth and there are obvious lessons to be learned from the episode, not least in relation to those players new to a panel and who may not be as au fait with the stringent nature of the anti-doping laws at that level.

The GAA and its members take particular pride in the uniqueness of their games and those who play them, both here and abroad. It is only right that they should do so, but when it comes to the question of drugs in sport and anti-doping procedures it is no different to any sporting organisation here or across the world. Nor can it be.

Like it or not, that is how it is and how it needs to stay.

Twitter: @Rackob

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