First a former All Black, Ali Williams, then two of our league representatives are caught showing more than a passing interest in the drug cocaine. What is wrong with them? Since the Kiwis' captain Jesse Bromwich and teammate Kevin Proctor were caught on CCTV buying and snorting cocaine in Canberra in the early hours of Saturday morning, many have lamented their failure to be more careful as people in the public eye. Others have regarded their offence as a symptom of a wider social problem and at least one of the game's commentators even thought it a bit tough that a player involved with the drug should suffer more than, say, a plumber.
They all miss the point. Athletes are almost the last people who could be expected to meddle with hard drugs. Perhaps more than in any occupation, their physical condition is essential to their career. Their mental condition is almost as important since a body at peak fitness is not much use unless the brain is functioning as it should. Much of the off-field misbehaviour that occasionally embarrasses sports such as rugby and league can be seen as uncontrolled extensions of the violence of the game, or of abusive attitudes to sex and alcohol that the game may have shared with wider society in the past. But drugs such as cocaine are in a different category.
Alcohol's effects on the brain are bad enough, but there is a reason the law treats certain drugs much more seriously than others. If the reason is open to any debate, sports professionals ought not to be much interested in it. As professionals they would play safe, avoiding any substance that carried the slightest risk of doing lasting damage to their mental agility. A player who takes such a risk is not just trifling with the law or letting down their team, they are calling into question their suitability for high performance sport of any kind.
It is bad enough they can be put under pressure to use performance enhancing substances but when they are introduced to prohibited recreational drugs sporting people should not be interested. Sport stands for values of physical health and fitness, it is - or should be - the antithesis of a drug culture. Society values sport for that reason, when exponents of sport dabble in a drug culture they dishonour not just themselves or even just their game, they betray one of the most basic ideals sport represents to society at large.
The pity is that these cocaine incidents come as the rugby codes in New Zealand appear to be taking a more responsible attitude to the recreational drug most suited to them, cold quenching beer. Rugby clubs these days are not the swill they used to be on a Saturday evening. The legendary drinking excesses of rugby teams from the All Blacks down, have been consigned to history. Or so we are told.
It is probably no coincidence that our rugby today is much faster and mentally sharper than it used to be. Players are selected for attitude and character as well as power and skill. A player who snorts powder is beneath everyone's respect.