In 2006, only nine athletes tested positive in AFL testing procedures. In 2009, an increase to 14 athletes was seen. This increase has drawn many critics to the AFL and their drug policy. However, a closer look at the figures reveals an interesting finding. In 2006, only 486 tests were conducted, whilst in 2009, a massive 1568 tests were conducted. With more testing, including off season testing, you might expect proportionally more positive tests. The figures actually show a decrease from 1.85% in 2006 down to 0.89% in 2009. This gives support to the work the AFL and the AFL Players Association are doing in educating players about the dangers of banned substances.
The drugs in sport debate often revolves around the type of drugs used, the amount used, the penalties imposed on athletes, and what the AFL is doing about it. However, the hard question often ignored is, "Why do the athletes take drugs, especially recreational drugs?" The answer is as complex as the question. Experts in the field argue several interesting factors.
Firstly, they point to the growing trend in our society for constant stimulation. From TVs on our mobile phones, to iPods providing 24/7 music, to play-stations, people crave the endorphins that are released when we have some form of external stimulation. For athletes, competition is the ultimate endorphin high. However, when things are quiet, athletes are particularly vulnerable to depression and boredom, and look to stimulants to pick them up again. As a result, cocaine and ICE are sought after.
This research supports what the AFL found: that much of this occurs in the off-season, when the routine of daily life is most "normal" and the cheering has stopped.
Elite athletes often find their identities in their performance, and as a result,when things are tough or the season finishes, they are susceptible to the short-term mental escape that some drugs offer. Many become lonely, and lack acceptance and support from others.
Secondly, athletes in the AFL face huge pressures: from their fans, family, clubs, and managers. They are pressured to perform all the time: on the field, in the media, around the public. Most are just normal young men with extraordinary physical skills. The result is that 14 last season gave in to this pressure and took banned substances.
The complexity of the issue is enormous. The only thing bigger than this is the hardest question of all, "What can the AFL do about it?" The AFL and the AFL Players Association are working hard on peer support programs, preventative education programs, as well as a host of other useful policies. These are important strategies to protect the sport and also the athletes. The drugs these 14 athletes took robbed their sport, killed their hopes and destroyed their bodies.
However, Jesus says that "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Jesus explains that He lay down His life for these players (and ours) so we might all experience what real life is all about. The real exhilaration is found in a relationship with Jesus.