Drugs in Sport Debate and Union Organisation

Drugs. As always they are a hot topic. But in Australia this year, the central focus of the debate has been on testing for 'illicit' or 'recreational' drugs; with leading players in the Australian Football League, the National Rugby League and Rugby Union (in recent years) all being outed (by admission, by testing or by implication) for the use of such drugs.

There is a federal election due later this year in Australia and the Federal Government has been seeking to score potitical points by criticising sports for 'soft' drugs policies. This follows the proactive stance of bodies such as the AFL and the AFL Players' Association who agreed to a policy testing for illicit substance use on the condition of a confidential process that offers users the opportunity to seek counselling and go through rehabilitation before public identification of drug users. Such policies have been developed in conjunction with sports medicine and drug rehabilitation experts who, this week, published an open letter in several Australian newspapers supporting the AFL and the AFLPA.

The player associations in Australian sport have had enough of the Federal Government's attitude. They have formed an umbrella body (the Athletes Association of Australia) and a recent article in the national newspaper, The Australian, suggests the AAA will take the fight to the Government.

Is this a case where the incentive to win an election will overwhelm a reasoned and thoughtful approach to public policy? And how many issues exist where a multi-sport 'super union' may be an effective lobbyist?