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22 Oct 2004 00:00
It is hard to feel sympathy for a footballer on £60 000 a week whose self-indulgent streak has wrecked at least one marriage (his own), and got him arrested for ignoring traffic lights at high speed, and whose all-round fondness for fast living and aversion to training has brought his career to the brink of disaster.
In one respect, however, Adrian Mutu, the Chelsea striker who admitted this week that he tested positive for cocaine, can consider himself unfortunate.
As a professional footballer, Mutu is one of a minority of employees in Britain for whom drug testing is a term of their employment.
Less than 10% of British industries operate compulsory drug testing for employees, the vast majority of them for reasons of health and safety.
Employees at the other 90% of British companies, however, can rest easy in the knowledge that as long as their indulgence in recreational drugs remains a private matter and does not impinge on their work, it will remain their business.
British unions supports this approach, endorsing the findings of an independent report published earlier this year which concluded that drug-testing at work does not act as a deterrent, and ‘is in conflict with liberal-democratic values”.
Mutu does not enjoy the luxury of private indulgence afforded to the majority, however, and nor should he expect it. As a professional sportsman he knows he is likely to be subject to random drug testing. He should also know — and if he didn’t, he does now — that alongside performance-enhancing steroids and blood boosters, recreational drugs from cannabis to heroin are on the banned list.
Mutu could find himself banned by the authorities and sacked by Chelsea, his reputation shredded. Far from being a victory for the campaign to clean up football, however, Mutu’s case is further evidence of the hypocrisy inherent in the game, and demonstrates sport’s confused approach to recreational drugs.
Drug testing in sport exists to prevent cheating through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, not to regulate the personal morality of athletes. Current regulations, however, allow little room for sports’ governing bodies to recognise the difference.
With the exception of amphetamines, popular in cycling for decades, recreational drugs have little or no performance-enhancing qualities. They have no place on the list of banned substances, and sporting bodies have no business threatening the careers of athletes because of what they do in their private lives.
Thanks to the all-embracing World Anti-Doping Agency code, however, a document heavily influenced by United States federal anti-drug policies, individual sports regulators have little choice but to test for drugs that can only harm athletic performance.
It is a fact that increasing numbers of people take drugs every weekend with minimal impact on their ability to do their jobs. Only in sport are they hung out to dry.
Defenders of the current system point to the poor example that drug use sets to young people who idolise footballers, and certainly it would be preferable for kids to emulate Gary Lineker rather than Mutu.
But that argument would be more persuasive if clubs and regulators took a similarly firm stance over the regular abuse of alcohol, on-field aggression, open disrespect for authority, and allegations of sexual aggression, that have become a feature of the game. —
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