The accountability question

Kate Bates

australian crime commission, doping, australia, Kate Bates
Australia's Annette Edmondson, Melissa Hoskins and Josephine Tomic compete during the London 2012 Olympic Games (Getty)

Let's talk accountability, a term that seems to be missing from the vernacular of many sports administrators and athletes, but it is important. In fact, the future of clean sport, championed by its integrity, is balancing on accountability being taken by organisations, by individuals.

Sports funding, for Olympic sports at least, is based on performance at an international level. Even the government is telling us that our best is not good enough if it is not world beating.

The Australian Crime Commission yesterday declared that Australian professional sports have a widespread doping problem. In order to protect individuals, they have not named specific sports, let alone specific teams or athletes.

Imagine the frustration felt by the cycling community that our sport was eagerly denounced as lacking integrity and ethics, yet our most popular sports of Australian rules football and rugby league, now under the microscope, deserve to be protected.

Not naming individuals has allowed the immediate focus to be placed on the back of Stephen Dank, the sports scientist at the centre of this scandal. Not a single athlete has been named. This creates the illusion that the athletes have been tricked into taking banned substances by a malevolent staff member.

There is a problem with this picture.

While Dank may indeed lack integrity, and has unarguably been in an influential position, can we seriously hold him solely accountable for the actions of the players?

Before the players plead ignorance, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency does a robust job of educating, and providing access to information related to banned and allowed substances. As an ex-athlete, this is something I know for a fact, and I know well.

With no equivocation, from an early age in elite sport, I was taught that I must bear the responsibility for what I put in my system. Ignorance is no defence. Or at least in cycling it isn’t.

When I was a young rider in Europe, I understood that there were supplements, and then there were ‘supplements’. What was even clearer not only to me, but to every athlete, coach and staff member was that if we chose to go down the path of unethical behaviour, we were on our own. There was never talk of ‘we will protect you’, or ‘you won't get caught’. The message was loud and clear: you are accountable for the choices you make.

This is where the AFL appears to have run into particular trouble. In wanting to ‘protect’ its players, it has accepted a tolerance for drug taking. It has taken accountability for the choices of its athletes. While it is illicit drug use that falls into the three-strike policy, let's not kid ourselves. Illicit drugs are illegal. Forget performance enhancing and ASADA and WADA code. It's against the law. If this behaviour is condoned, then how can anyone, let alone AFL administrators, be shocked that PEDs are next on the list?

Zero-tolerance is the only way forward. It cannot have exceptions, and it cannot be applied with a soft touch. Our athletes need to shudder at the thought of cheating. They shouldn’t shy away because they are told it is wrong, they should shy away because they know it is wrong.

In pushing forward the idea of zero-tolerance, we must all take accountability for our role in the sports world. Whether it is the clubs, the fans, or the media, we all play a role in applying pressure and influence on our athletes and players.

We expect them to be super human. We expect them to play through injury, to get battered and beaten, and to bounce back as though they were Mr Incredible. And then we are shocked when we find out they have been using performance-enhancing aids to maintain their health and performance.

Instead of focusing all our attention on criminalising doping, why don’t we focus the same veracity towards changing the culture of sport in Australia? Let's be proactive, not reactive. Let's teach kids that cheating is worse than failure. Let Australian children grow up knowing that their best is good enough, that ‘whatever it takes’ has boundaries to it.

We are a nation of armchair critics who rip apart our sportsmen and women for their every failing. Is it so far-fetched to imagine that the sports fans have contributed to the current culture that ‘failure isn’t an option’?

Sports funding, for Olympic sports at least, is based on performance at an international level. Even the government is telling us that our best is not good enough if it is not world beating.

The message has been sent to all involved to come forward, to dob themselves in, to be accountable and to help contribute to a cleaner sporting culture in Australia.

Accountability needs to be taken by all parties involved, but the step needs to be taken as a collective, not piecemeal, and with far less judgement than is currently being dished out.

Let's all put our hands up, admit to the part we have played, and together, move forward to a cleaner sporting environment, built upon integrity and strong ethics. Let's stop pointing the finger of blame, and instead let's play a role in changing the culture.

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