lifestyle

The dangerous side to team sports that no one talks about.

It’s supposed to be an activity that builds confidence, strengthens character and encourages social interaction. But the dangerous sub-culture behind team sports is hurting our players more than it helps them.

It’s a Tuesday, and Joshua hasn’t been home since Sunday morning. This weekend was grand final weekend for his Rugby Union club, and they’ve lost the game that matters. Instead of winding down with a beer and a few mates, he’s been partying non-stop for the last two days.

Mad Monday is a tradition amongst rugby clubs after the grand final where the players and coaches take the day off work and celebrate the season that was.

But it’s not just a day to be with friends and be social. It’s a day where antics are encouraged, alcohol is forced down your throat and drugs are circling the room. This illicit behaviour isn’t just encouraged – it’s expected.

“Instead of winding down with a beer and a few mates, he’s been partying non-stop for the last two days.”

Joshua has been playing club rugby union for the better part of his life. At 23, he’s been participating in Mad Monday for five years.

“It’s an excuse to drink. Everyone gets involved – players, coaches, senior management. It’s not just a few drinks at a pub with the boys. It’s organized by the coaches and staff who are encouraging you to participate.”

“It’s easy to lose control.”

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And it’s not just happening in smaller clubs. The big leagues are notorious for bad behaviour on these Mad Mondays too. Look at any newspaper on the Tuesday after Grand Final weekend and you’ll see the headlines celebrating these raucous and often dangerous antics.

Remember Wendell Sailor? The Australian Rugby Union player saw his career come to an end at 32 after testing positive for cocaine.

Or Todd Carney, the disgraced Rugby League player famous for getting drunk and peeing into his own mouth?

drugs and alcohol in sports
Wendell Sailor, image via Getty Images.
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Sure, you could argue that ‘boys will be boys’, and they have a right to get a little crazy once the season winds down. In fact, a Rugby Union coach and player named Steve sees Mad Monday as a necessary way to unwind.

“I personally think it’s a rite of passage for players to celebrate after a long year of commitments,” he said.

On the topic of drugs and alcohol within the club culture, Steve doesn’t see it as a problem at a senior level.

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“I think that the education of players from schools and parents is the biggest influence in whether a person, in this case a rugby player, will take part in experimenting or abusing alcohol or drugs. It is a very common theme in society these days and I think that people will be exposed to it whether it is at a footy club, another sport or within other social environments.”

drugs and alcohol in sports
Todd Carney, a former Rugby League player. Image via Getty.

Joshua says on a typical Mad Monday, the illicit drugs are circling the room full of impressionable players.

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“Rugby league culture has been exposed this week as the big, festering boil it is…”

“The drug culture is growing within sporting clubs,” he said.

“Team culture has a lot to do with it. If drinking late into the night and using illicit drugs is something that is acceptable among the playing group, it’s difficult for the young players to ignore it.  Drugs are definitely there – and it’s becoming more common. It’s not spoken about openly as such, but there will be players around you that are 18,19, and they’re watching two guys in their team that they look up to disappear for 15 minutes and they won’t immediately realize it but they’re off doing lines of coke.”

“If drinking late into the night and using illicit drugs is something that is acceptable among the playing group, it’s difficult for the young players to ignore it.”

These kids – these 18-and 19-year-old boys – aren’t playing the game just to increase their skills. The sport gives the players a support network, a second family. But it’s whether or not they can take it for what it is… whether or not they can maintain control.

Joshua says it’s not something you can just say no to.

“It’s a binge culture. It’s the kind of thing that, as a player, you need to be able to do to fit in. Guys who don’t drink just don’t fit in. The drugs are one thing, with more of a choice behind the decision, but drinking… drinking is expected.”

“It’s the kind of think you need to do to fit in.”

One former player, Lachlan, who is a few years older than Joshua, agrees the drug culture is affecting these boys in an adverse way, but says the clubs and the sport itself can’t be blamed.

“It’s an example of group-syncing. When the majority of the group does it, everyone is going to get on board. As time goes on, the group culture remains the same but the product in the centre of it keeps changing. First we had beers, then harder alcohol, and now it’s drugs. They’re easy to get, they’re cheap and if most of your peers are doing it, you may as well do it too.”

“The problem isn’t rugby. It’s accessibility.”

But for these young men – these boys at 18, 19 or 20 – their group culture is rugby. And their struggles that come from reliance on drugs or alcohol aren’t taken seriously because it’s expected, not respected.

And if drinking is encouraged, drugs are likely to follow especially if these boys are 18 and 19. The culture is targeting weak, easily-influenced young boys straight out of high school.

Joshua says, “I have an alcohol problem, but my friends don’t see it as one.”

“They don’t understand the damage this culture is doing to their body and their mind.”