Sports, Drugs, and Lessons Learned

Workplace Drug Testing LawsIn February 2013, when the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) announced the results of a year-long investigation into the use of banned drugs in professional sports, including rugby and football, the shock waves were felt by all. Australia is filled with avid sports fans, and for them to read their beloved athletes may have been using performance enhancing drugs and possibly had links to organised crime was distressing. There was mention of drug use, match fixing, and payoffs, all of which made the Australian sports industry sound more like a mafia type organisation.

Now referred to as the ‘drugs-in-sport’ scandal or drama, the damage control experts quickly shifted into high gear after the ACC report was released. Attorneys for the athletes and some politicians are questioning the legality of investigative methods used by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA). One of the complaints levied by Sydney MP Daryl Melham is that the ASADA has tainted the reputations of many athletes and had denied them procedural justice. The ASADA wants legislative authority to issue “disclosure notices” to athletes and other support staff that would force them to testify about drugs and drug use in sports.1

Pressure to Perform

It is not just the sports industry dealing with drug use. The entertainment industry is also known to be permeated with illicit drugs. The two industries have a lot in common in that its members are subjected to intense pressure to perform at the highest level possible and have throngs of adoring fans that seem to lead to them believing they are invulnerable to the consequences of drug and alcohol use. Of course, it is also easy to forget that athletes and actors are as human as the typical Australian worker in a mining, construction, or office job. That is precisely why drug and alcohol testing is needed in every industry and not just select ones that are labelled as high risk. Any on-the-job stress can create pressure, and employers play an important role in Australian society as front line deterrents to employee drug and alcohol use.

There are several points all employers should note, whatever the outcome of the ASADA and ACC investigations into illegal drug use and organised crime influence in sports. These points merely reinforce the need for workplace drug and alcohol testing. First, just the suspicion of drug use can create enormous distress and turmoil. One of the reasons Sydney MP Melham is so upset by the report is that just the suggestion of drug use is enough to ruin careers and reputations. The solid evidence provided by drug testing is invaluable because there are no suspicions – only proof or disproof person by person.

Second, drugs do attract the wrong type of people and activities. Justice Minister Jason Clare said, “The ACC has found that professional sport in Australia is highly vulnerable to infiltration by organised crime.”2 Drugs make people and places vulnerable in many ways – emotionally, physically, and to outside influences. This supports the employer arguments that zero tolerance policies are important for more than keeping drugs and alcohol out of the workplace. The policies can also help keep other problems from developing, like drug dealing in the workplace or a culture of drug acceptance from forming.

Third, the economic conditions over the last 5 years have placed enormous pressure on all workers to perform at higher levels. It is not just in the sports or entertainment industries. Every worker feels the pinch of higher expectations due to cost cutting, global economic distress, rising prices, and so on. Like athletes and celebrities, the typical worker must always be on top of the game in order to remain competitive. The industry conditions place pressure on workers, but do not serve as an excuse for turning to drugs or alcohol. There are many ways employers can help staff members cope with the stress. For example, a random drug and alcohol testing program can be one component of a larger wellness program that includes nutrition and fitness seminars or discounted fitness centre memberships.

Preserving Honesty and Integrity

Athletes around the world have turned to drugs to achieve record setting performances. As the ACC, ASADA, and legislators wade through the process of determining “who did what “, the message is clear. A valid, honest drug and alcohol testing program is essential to preserving the honesty and integrity of any business in any industry and to keeping out many undesirable influences. The influence does not have to be large either. No employer wants a worker meeting his or her drug dealer in the parking lot during lunchtime. A lot can be learned from the sports scandal, even though it may seem on the surface to be unrelated to the typical workplace. The lessons are relevant to everyone.

Mediscreen ( is a premier drug and alcohol testing company that can help all Australian employers establish greater legal defensibility and promote substance intolerance in the workplace. Random and accurate testing are key to maintaining a drug free workplace.


1 Maher, Sid. (2013, March 13). ‘Hint of Haneef’ in drugs-in-sport drama. Retrieved from The Australian:

2 Ireland, Judith. (2013, February 7). Probe finds widespread use of drugs in sport, crime links. Retrieved from The Age:

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