Opinion: NRL 'not alone' in doping allegations
John Lawler, Jason Clare and Bill Pulver (AAP)
The NRL is not clean. Not a fun sentence for a rugby league lover to write but also, surprisingly, one that I don't feel too shocked to read. And as a sport,it is certainly not alone.
I was looking forward to ripping into the All Stars game ahead of tomorrow's official pre-season kickoff, but it's all eclipsed by the proclaimed darkest day in Australian sport. And make no mistake, it's a pretty low one for New Zealand as well.
We're about to spend weeks and months, if not years, sifting through information, allegations, lawsuits, suspensions and criminal charges. Many sports are about to lose fans. It will be the fringe fans or the zealous die hards, those who can either easily live without it or those who have dedicated their life to the game and are as hurt as they would be if their partner had an affair. But as it stands, most sports fans feel cheated right now.
We'll hear plenty of "sources say" and "rumours are" and many reputations will be ripped apart, some rightly, others potentially wrongly. But right now, because the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) hasn't given names of those they know have been involved in corrupt activities, everyone is guilty by association. That cannot be a pleasant feeling. Much like every Storm player and official was implicated in the salary cap rort, sportspeople throughout Australia are all tarred with the same damning brush.
It's now naive in this day and age to think that any of the major sporting codes are completely clean. For all we know, Super Rugby could be rife with it, it could infiltrate test rugby, Football's reputation could be even further dented, untampered cricket results may be a thing of the past or the NRL could be full of those willing to cross the line for their own benefit.
But the problem is, we're all just guessing right now. And until there's answers from the ACC, things are going to get murky. Many will enjoy the soap-opera but the juicy details will be a sad indictment on many a sport.
Those who are cheating have been urged to come forward. I'm not holding my breath just yet. Hopefully the establishment of the NRL integrity unit is the first step in the right direction for this particular sport, and the multitude of cyclists who eventually handed themselves in and cleared their conscience can be of some inspiration to those feeling the pressure across the Tasman.
By the nature of odds, there's a huge chance a New Zealander will be implicated in one of the codes in question. With so many playing in Australian or Trans-Tasman competitions, it would be something of a miracle if one isn't involved in what's being called a widespread scandal. And we have to be open to the idea that some on this side of the ditch could be in the same boat.
We all want to think those who represent this country wouldn't dream of sullying the name of New Zealand. But many in Australia thought the same 24 hours ago. I can't think of a sportsman or woman I've met I thought was doping or on the take. Almost all wouldn't even consider it. But look at sport world wide. Find me a clean sport or a country untouched by the dramas of drugs, match fixing, illegal gambling and corruption. You've got quite the job on your hands there.
Picture your favourite sporting moment. Now imagine your team won because the opposition or a referee made it so. How tainted would the memory now be for you? And on the flip side, what if the heartbreaking defeat for the team or individual you support was because of systematic doping from the opposition. Sends shivers down my spine.
I'm glad this happened in the NRL and Super Rugby pre-season. Gives the initial shock and anger and investigations time to take place before we focus on the footy. But many might look at it a different way come kick off.
There's no happy ending from yesterday's revelation. The best any of the sports can hope for is recovery - athletes and sports scientists work out the risk isn't worth the reward and officials finally get their heads out of the sand.