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Rugby League: Newcastle Knights player admits taking illicit drugs throughout his career.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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PM

 

Friday 31 August 2007

Rugby League: Newcastle Knights player admits taking illicit drugs throughout his career

 

MARK COLVIN: And as you've gathered, with Grand Final season fast approaching, drugs, not football, are now dominating the coverage of both the AFL (Australian Football League) and the NRL (National Rugby League). 

 

The story of Newcastle Knights Rugby League player Andrew Johns has hit the headlines not just because of the drugs involved, but because his image was that of a clear-headed captain, an ornament to the game as they say. 

 

Instead, the image of Andrew Johns will now be that of a man who spent much of his career battling depression with alcohol and other recreational drugs. 

 

The news has sparked fierce debate about how clubs deal with players under stress, drug-testing regimes, and how elite athletes cope with the highs of victory against the temptations of drugs and alcohol. 

 

Emily Bourke reports. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: The Newcastle Knights tout Andrew Johns as the world's best rugby player, with more records to his name than any other player in the history of the game. 

 

But his online player profile also notes the famous person he most admires is Liam Gallagher, a notorious English rock star famous for his erratic behaviour and squandering his talent on substance abuse. 

 

After Andrew Johns' public admission on Channel Nine last night about alcohol, drugs and depression, there's now a long shadow over his sporting legacy.  

 

ANDREW JOHNS: You know, I don't want to make excuses. I've, you know, I've put my hand up, I've done the wrong thing, and, you know, I'm so ashamed of it. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: Matt Rodwell from the Rugby League Professionals' Association has described the admission as brave and sad. 

 

MATT RODWELL: Most people are saying, who know him, that they want to rally behind him and offer him some support and pull him through a very difficult time in his life. 

 

REPORTER: The fact that it's been 10 years, do you think that, you know, it's a bad reflection on the club, that he's admitted that he's taken it for 10 years? 

 

MATT RODWELL: I wasn't involved with the club management at all so, you know, it's, ah … I guess the only thing you'd, like, you'd reflect on is were there support mechanisms in place to offer Andrew some support and guidance if he did have a problem. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: Last night, Andrews Johns admitted that his family, teammates and the club knew he was taking recreational drugs. 

 

Newcastle's club doctor has reportedly said that he knew Andrew Johns had taken drugs for five years. 

 

Newcastle Knights Chief Executive Steve Burraston says players and team officials will be asked to explain what they knew.  

 

STEVE BURRASTON: I'm sure people have heard that, you know, Andrew can enjoy himself, and I heard those rumours and things as well. Whether they actually believe that to be drug taking, I would question. 

 

But certainly, in any organisation, I think that if you ignore something you condone it, and certainly you don't want people who condone any of that sort of behaviour in your club. But I hope that's not what we find. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: The NRL's Chief Executive, David Gallop, says it's possible the club could have done things differently.  

 

DAVID GALLOP: I think the Newcastle club have been dealing with a range of issues with Andrew over many years. They've done their best in that regard. Perhaps, in hindsight, some people would look to have done some things differently. 

 

But, again, you can only deal in facts. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: Not wanting to be seen as taking a soft approach on drugs, the Knights' Steve Burraston says Andrew Johns' contract with the club is in doubt. 

 

STEVE BURRASTON: We need to talk with his management. We currently have a contract that runs to the end of this year. It's not a playing contract any longer, since he retired. He's doing various things, including specialist coaching for us.  

 

We were in the throws of negotiating with his management a further contract, going forward. We've got to pull all those issues together and have a think about that. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: The Prime Minister, John Howard, has called for a fresh crackdown on drug use in sport. 

 

JOHN HOWARD: These are highly-paid, high-profile role models, and there's a responsibility on the part of all of the administering authorities in the major Australian sports, and I obviously include the four football codes, and I include cricket, I include all of them, to make sure that their anti-drug regimes are as tough as possible. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: But the NRL's David Gallop says tougher drug testing programs are already in place. 

 

DAVID GALLOP: What we've seen in the last 24 hours is an eye opener to everyone that you're taking a huge risk. If you're a contracted player, you're going to be facing a penalty regime, but importantly I think what we saw in the last 24 hours is the public humiliation. 

 

DAVID SHILBURY: They do have money, they do have adulation, and sometimes they have time. Those ingredients can sometimes create an environment in which our elite athletes are susceptible to such illicit drug use. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: Professor David Shilbury is from Sport Management at Deakin University. He draws a link between the recent drug cases within the AFL, most notably the case of Ben Cousins from the West Coast Eagles, who was admitted to an American clinic to treat an addiction to ice.  

 

DAVID SHILBURY: The sense that they feel invincible and above the law, on its own, is a good enough reason for us to try and step in and dissuade them from such behaviour. 

 

EMILY BOURKE: Is there a way to relieve that stardom pressure? 

 

DAVID SHILBURY: Not in our current society. I mean, we adore and appreciate our genuinely talented athletes. What they can do on the sports field is something that most Australians admire and adore. So until there's some sort of redressing the balance between the importance of sports people in our society, then that's unlikely to change much. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Professor David Shilbury from Sport Management at Deakin University ending Emily Bourke's report.