Footy, Drugs and the David Hicks Dilemma


by The Unknown Sports Lover



Many observers have remarked on footy thinkers as often people with radical dreams who have retreated to the game of the people as their confidence in a better society, a real ‘fair go’ society rather than just a rhetorical ‘fair go’ society, has diminished.

Interestingly, politics meets footy (and even the rugby league variant) in the current ASADA drugs affair.

While at least two sports clubs have run unsafe workplaces, under which they should be punished under safety at work legislation, the most recent developments suggest a David Hicks situation.

Putting aside the question of illegal drugs (under WADA and ASADA codes) for a moment, ASADA has now asked the Cronulla Sharks players to accept offer the can’t refuse. That is, to make the David Hicks bargain with the devil. Hicks had a simple choice: plead guilty or stay at Guantanamo.

Whatever you think of David Hicks, foolish (as in the pic with a gun, which he never fired) or worse, why should someone plead guilty if they believe they are not, as was eloquently argued by his father (who is also a junior footy coach) and by his advocate, and now Australian resident, Dan Mori.

While some would find it an unlikely comparison, the same moral (or immoral?) principle applies. Even though both Cronulla and Essendon players may not know what they took, the cowboy or deal-making style of the federal government agency now demands that they make a deal. Admit guilt, even if you don’t know if you are guilty, and then, in the Cronulla case, accept a mainly retrospective ban. And you must – this sounds like a real estate agent or a member of an honoured society twisting an arm – decide now; that is, not wait on the Federal Court judgment in the Essendon case.

Many would detect an unpleasant smell in this form of ‘justice’. Is it a denial of natural justice?

While there is no defence for those who led the drug regimen, whether the drugs are illegal or not under ASADA codes, can players make a ‘guilty’ plea, which also acknowledges that they are making it ‘under duress’, just like Hicks? What does natural justice say about this?  That may be a matter for lawyers, and most of us are not lawyers. Whatever the legal character of this morass, morally it is wrong.

As in all ‘plea bargains’, the person who is accused is encouraged to ‘play along’ with the charging authority, even if they don’t know or even if they believe that it may be untruthful to declare that they were guilty.

It will be even more unpleasant if WADA seeks to overrule the ASADA light punishments. Can the player who acted ‘under duress’ then change their plea, which seems quite reasonable in the circumstances?

While the deal culture seems endemic (see Essendon, the AFL, paid holidays etc), it seems very odd coming from a federal authority.

Things are crook in more places than Tallarook, which may be why so many sports lovers find that the whole thing, the drug experimentation and the games played by investigators and by clubs, leaves a foul taste in their mouth. But perhaps such sensations have no legal standing in the agoras of the powerful, whatever side they and their expensive QCs are playing for.


  1. Dave Brown says

    Yep, Unknown, it’s a tricky one. No doubt Essendon would like to avoid any comparison with David Hicks at this point in time but the question of natural justice is reasonable. Just like with a tribunal system that gives a player a 25% discount for an early guilty plea or a criminal justice system that allows plea bargaining and gives credit for guilty pleas, natural justice will always be a concern.

    What really bothers me about the Essendon situation is that ASADA are not providing the players with any access to the evidence they have to issue the show cause notices. Given the club is unable (or perhaps unwilling…) to say what went into the players, on what basis can the players make a reasonable assessment as to what decision is right? Natural justice comes a long way second when all authorities around those players are interested in expediency.

  2. By my reckoning David Hicks may not be overwhelmed with joy at being compared with Essendon either.

  3. Dave Brown says

    Fair point Rick. Besides, given his upbringing, he’d be a Central District man.

  4. Pamela Sherpa says

    The whole ASADA investigation stinks to high heaven. How any organization can be allowed to charge players without providing hard cold evidence is outrageous.
    I think the rugby players were foolish to agree to the sanctions.

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