1 March 2013

Tragic train death exposes flaw in cricket’s drug-testing system

Drugs in sport have been a problem for decades. From Ben Johnson to Lance Armstrong everyone knows of at least one performance-enhancing story that has shocked the world and many of sport’s governing bodies have addressed this predicament, for example the Football Association now runs over 1,000 tests a year. 

Events over the past few days have suggested that cricket, one of Britain’s oldest sports, is not quite up with the times. Even though drug tests are carried out during the season to ensure that stimulants are not taken, it is almost as if cricket players are just expected to conduct themselves in a ‘gentlemanly’ manner during the winter.

Such assumptions should never be made by anyone involved in any sport. Recreational drugs pose a bigger threat to cricket than many other sports, as it has one of the longest periods where domestic players are not in competitive action.

While Surrey batsman Tom Maynard’s death shocked many, what was more surprising was the result of the inquest in which it was revealed that he could possibly have been taking cocaine and ecstasy for three months. In the last few days many leading figures in the sport, including former England captain Michael Vaughan, have called for out-of-season tests to be introduced. 

This event has caused a shock to the cricketing system, a game which is more associated with match-fixing problems than drugs. It raises a question regarding what can be done to stop this from happening again. What is clear is that more stringent tests would help.

What should be even more worrying is the reason as to why this has happened. In 1997 Warwickshire all-rounder Paul Smith was given a life ban by the England and Wales Cricket Board for using recreational drugs, although now that policy has been scrapped and counselling is now the preferred option for such cases.

Cases of recreational drugs in sport
Warwickshire cricketer Paul Smith given life-time ban by ECB
England rugby union international Matthew Stevens given two year ban after testing positive for cocaine
Rugby league player Gareth Hock also given two year ban for cocaine usage
The FA conduct three drugs tests that result in players testing positive for cannabis
Pakistan cricketer Abdur Rehman given 12 week ban for testing positive for cannabis
Inquest into cricketer Tom Maynard’s death finds that he had taken ecstasy and cocaine before he was hit by a train

Counselling is clearly the way forward if cricket is to stop this growing problem that could mar the game, as players like Maynard should definitely be helped, rather than punished. The ECB have said that this was a ‘one-off’ incident, but should not push this under the carpet as it may not be a rarity, especially considering a number of people admitted knowing about the 23-year-old’s drug habits. 

Last season Pakistan left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman tested positive for cannabis and was given a 12 month ban, providing even more evidence that this case was not isolated. 

Cricket is not the only sport that has had players taking recreational drugs. Of the four positive tests that the FA conducted last year, three were for cannabis. In 2009 England rugby union international Matthew Stevens was banned for two years after being tested positive for cocaine, as was rugby league star Gareth Hock.

The amount of drug-related occurrences has increased over the last few years, and the ECB and other governing bodies of sport should not ignore this. Through more tests, followed by helping the players involved, it is a problem that can effectively be stamped out.  

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