So the world's sporting headlines are bursting at the seams because Andre Agassi took crystal meth. Quelle horreur.
Can someone explain to me why crystal meth is a banned substance in sport, and why it's tested for in the first place? Same questions for any drugs that fall under the category of "recreational"? Why should the various anti-doping agencies, who came into being purely to make sure that athletes are not cheating by taking performance enhancing drugs, give a damn about whether they're taking something that actually has the opposite effect? If Tony Adams can play for Arsenal as an alcoholic, then why shouldn't Adrian Mutu do the odd line, or Andre Agassi hoover garbage up his snout if he wants to?
The hypocrisy of it all, and dare I say it the invasion of athletes' civil liberties when it comes to it, is astounding. Because the obvious answer to my questions is the tired old "because it sets a bad example for the kiddies back home". Which is balls! Nothing gives me the shits more than the idea that because some idiot is overpaid to kick a bit of leather around a field that he has some sort of moral obligation to be Mother Theresa as well. What's worse is when we don't just expect it, we ASSUME it, usually through some sort of ridiculous idea (and I'm talking particularly to the Australians amongst us) that if you're good enough to play sport professionally then you're obviously a better grade of person. It's made all the more ridiculous when in many, many cases - witness various of the drug scandals in AFL, the sex scandals in the NRL, the sort of reputations that Premier League footballers have - the truth is far from that anyway. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that in the highly-paid, ultra-professional, hugely-competitive-by-nature industry that modern sport has become, being an entirely dislikable bastard is probably not a bad attribute for an athlete to have! As soon as the world stops expecting athletes to be 1st-class citizens, the better.
All that said, I think most sport fans know this anyway. Go up to some guy in a pub and say "Ricky Ponting's a hard-nosed, ruthless bastard. He probably wouldn't have time for you or me", their response would be "Yeah? And?"
So why the moral judgements on drugs? Why are sporting agencies so obsessed with maintaining a squeaky-clean image? It's self-defeating. The more stringent the standards are, the more scandals there will be, and the more cynical we'll get. Andre Agassi taking crystal meth when he was at a low point of his career should not be any cause for alarm, and you and I don't need to know about it. Have YOU ever taken recreational drugs? Statistics tell us that it's probably quite likely. Why should we expect Agassi to be any different? Are you going to turn up to the office on Monday only to be told that because you smoked some weed on Friday night that you're going to be banned from working for a set period? Of course not - and your reaction, quite rightly, will be that smoking a joint the other night has no effect whatsoever on your ability to do your job, and until such time as it does, management can mind their own business.
And if you're going to say that athletes are in the public eye and that increases reponsibility, then you're just being naive. Politicians, anyone?
The only people that athletes should be answerable to if they take recreational drugs is the police if they get caught. Anything else is a whole lot of hot air - or in this case, publicity for book sales.