THE Cronulla players have rightly refused to sign a legal document confessing to drug taking in return for a supposed reduction in sentence – and full pay – because such conditions are not on the table from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.
The players should be seeking independent legal advice, rather than rely on a Sharks representative, who, despite his drugs background and understanding of the process, is acting in the interests of the club.
There has been an avalanche of misinformation about the sports drugs process involved in this investigation, which started with a year-long secret surveillance by the Australian Crime Commission.
The critical fallacy is that the drug was "legal" in 2011 when the players were taking it. This is wrong. Peptide hormones and their chemical cousins are banned and were also banned in 2011 under the World Anti-Doping Agency code.
Another misconception is that players who "confess" will automatically be given a reduced sentence. ASADA doesn't give unconditional guarantees about the length of sentence because each case is considered on its merits. Such a consideration for a shorter time out of the game will occur only after a player is formally charged by the ASADA for a drugs offence. And those discussions will be directly between ASADA and the player, or his legal representative, in top secrecy, not with someone appointed by the Sharks club. Such is the heavy-handed nature of the laws surrounding the ASADA Act, anyone from the Sharks administration – or the NRL – claiming to know of which players are involved and the circumstances of their drugs involvement, are committing a criminal offence.
The players should be acutely aware, too, that any reduction in the mandatory two-year drugs ban is only given in exceptional circumstances. And some players might be horrified to discover that if any of them have been caught encouraging the use of the peptides in any of the taped phone conversations, or if their abuse of the drugs was extensive and systemic, they could be classified as being traffickers and the length of their suspension may not be two years, but an end to their sporting career.
Confessing to taking drugs, sadly, is not exceptional in the sports world. However, in any deal making with ASADA, players would have to come forward with who supplied the drug, how often they were taking it and who else was taking it. Names, dates, places – all of the details – would have to be divulged.
The Sharks club has supposedly offered the carrot to players promising they will continue to be paid if they come forward – a cheaper option for the club than having to defend any breach-of-trust claims in court, but again such an offer, while tempting, is not permitted.
Earning any income from sport is illegal under the ASADA code for the length of the ban. Apart from being legally prevented from being paid, they can't be involved in any club activities, sponsor promotions or even train with teammates.
Of course the Sharks club, and indeed the other five rugby league clubs involved in this peptide drug-taking scandal, are attempting to minimise the fallout. But the players should be conscious that – just like believing club officials that the substance is OK and they won't test positive – the interests of the club can be very different from their personal circumstances.
Jacquelin Magnay is Olympics editor of the London Telegraph.