Cricket is subject to drug testing, as most sports are, and, on the eve of Australia’s first World Cup match on 11 February, it was revealed that Shane Warne had tested positive to a banned substance. The test was done on 22 January but the result had only just come through. This proved to be one of the biggest cricket stories of the decade.
Warne was permitted to advise the team of the situation at a team meeting and then went home from South Africa to face the music. He was handed a one-year ban from playing all competitive forms of cricket.
Following one of the many controversial incidents that have typified Shane Warne’s existence, he commented that his life was like a soap opera. All the more so now.
When I start to think of all the factors surrounding Warne being found guilty of doping and being suspended from cricket for 12 months, it seems complicated and I am tempted to leave it to one side, in the ‘too hard’ basket. However, I can’t do that – this is a huge issue. Whether we really believe Warne is a drug cheat or not, Warne, and Australian cricket, have now been tarnished with the stigma of drug cheating.
I am surprised and dismayed that Warne received such a harsh punishment. I am very disappointed that he won’t play for 12 months, if ever again – it will be an effort of great determination for Warne to persevere at this late stage of his career. I think that Warne can be an arrogant bore on-field and off-field; his behaviour has at times left something to be desired, not to mention presenting cricket and his own name in an unfavourable light on several previous occasions. On the other hand, there is something about the likeable larrikin that seems to keep him in favour with the public. He lives by the seat of his pants with his heart on his sleeve. Perhaps it is his fallibility off the field which keeps him within reach of the people.
And, of course, on the field Warne has been a champion of champions. He was voted one of the five players of the last century. His list of exploits is longer and more illustrious than any other bowler. And it isn’t just the numbers. The numbers are good: he most likely would have been the world record holder for the most number of Test wickets by this time next year, plus his ability to perform for the big occasion is legendary. He has a Test hat trick, ‘That Ball’ to Gatting in 1993 was his first ball in Test Cricket on English soil, Man-of-the-Match in the final of the last World Cup, and the semi-final and the countless times where he has taken a wicket with the first ball or last ball of a spell or even on the last ball of a day’s play. Warne does have the ability to turn cricket into theatre.
A few points about the drug case:
1. I look forward to reading the reasons for the findings by the ACB panel and the reasoning for the length of suspension. They are not released yet.
2. The general public probably does not have all of the facts. I find it hard to swallow that Warne took just one pill. Taking a pill from your mum before appearing in a big match is hardly going to have an instant effect on one’s appearance. [It was subsequently revealed that Warne took at least two diuretic pills.]
3. Does Warne really want us to believe that he is an idiot? He is an international athlete. He knows that he is drug tested. Why would he take a pill if he didn’t know what it was?
4. There seems to be a concern that the diuretic in the pill can be used as a masking agent for other banned substances, particularly steroids. I find it hard to believe that a cricketer would benefit from long-term use of steroids and I don’t think Warne was using them to build up muscle bulk. But is it possible that he was prescribed steroids as part of the recovery process from his dislocated shoulder? I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know (but I do watch All Saints and ER). Are there any doctors out there who would care to comment? Is it possible that Warne was using the diuretic to mask something illegal even it was being used for a legitimate medical reason?
5. The previous point leads to this one: what does constitute performance-enhancing drugs? Does a player having a painkiller before a match constitute taking a performance-enhancing drug? If he couldn’t play at all without the painkiller but can with it, then his performance must be enhanced. It is not enhanced beyond what he is capable of when fully fit but, nonetheless, in his current state of being it is enhanced. Drug cheating in sport has become rife particularly in Olympic sports. Very stringent measures are required to attempt to stamp it out. However, sometimes, things become ridiculous such as at the last Olympics when a gymnast was stripped of her gold medal because she tested positive for something in her cough mixture. That is why each case has an individual hearing so that extenuating factors can be brought to light and taken into consideration (as was the case with Sam Riley in February 1996). There is no mandatory sentencing.
6. My main concern is that I think Warne may be right in claiming that he has been made a scapegoat. I think that it was highly inappropriate that self-righteous heavyweights, such as Dick Pound and Phil Coles, made statements to the effect that they hope Warne is dealt with severely – before his case had even been heard! Here is an extract from an interview with Dick Pound on ABC radio:
ROSS SOLLY (ABC): Do you think Australia has a reputation for being a little bit easy on their own?
DICK POUND: Yes. Yes and very quick … you know what, what would you be doing if the person involved here was a Chinese bowler or a Chinese swimmer? You have to ask yourself that. The fact that you’re dealing with an icon in one of your major sports puts the … makes the cheese a little more binding.
Australia has often been accused of taking a hard line on drug cheats – as long as they weren’t Australian – and then being soft on their own when positive tests come to light. Sam Riley is one of the most high-profile cases. For Australia to become credible in the fight against drugs in sport there needed to be a crucifixion of a high-profile sportsman. A superstar. Someone whom the loss would really hurt and the world would take notice.
So Warnie has taken the fall. Australia has now shown that it will be harsh on drug cheats – even our sporting heroes. Cricket is so far removed from the areas of sport where drug cheating was invented, and is still prominent, that this suspension has no detrimental effect on Olympic sports but, politically, it looks very good for Australia – which must please Phil Coles no end.
Warne does have some consolation: this will add a sensational chapter to the Shane Warne life story when it is written in a few years’ time.
Warne’s life as a soap Opera