Football season marked by drugs scandals

Australian Broadcasting Corporation  

Broadcast: 04/10/2007 

Reporter: Paul Lockyer 

Another football season has come to an end, but 2007 will be remembered as the year marked by drug scandals. AFL's Ben Cousins and Rugby League's Andrew Johns both admitted to long term substance abuse while they were thrilling the crowds on the field. Now the issue is back in the headlines with the death of former West Coast Eagles player, Chris Mainwaring.


KERRY O'BRIEN: Tougher guidelines to try to curb drug use by Australia's elite athletes are to be unveiled by the Federal Government this weekend, in the face of opposition from many sports.

The action has been sparked by another football season marked by drug scandals.

There have been admissions by two of the nation's biggest football names, AFL's Ben Cousins and rugby league's Andrew Johns, that they had engaged in long-term substance abuse while they were thrilling crowds on the field.

Both codes argue that measures are in place to control the problem, but the death in Perth earlier this week of a former West Coast Eagles star, Chris Mainwaring, has brought the issue into even sharper focus.

Paul Lockyer reports.

PAUL LOCKYER: As Geelong players and their fans celebrated a long awaited AFL Grand Final victory last weekend, there was sobering news breaking in the west. A highly represented and widely popular former player, Chris Mainwaring, had died at the age of 41 and initial reports suggested that drugs were involved.

GLENN MITCHELL, ABC SPORTS PRESENTER: Well, a lot of people I guess are feeling that drugs may have been an issue, just the irrational behaviour when first of all authorities were called to his house just before midnight on Sunday night, he was screaming for help out in the backyard by the time the authorities arrived, paramedics and police, he had calmed down significantly to be placed in the care of a neighbour.

PAUL LOCKYER: Mainwaring calmed down and police left, only to return. Half an hour later, police and paramedics were called back after Mainwaring had convulsions and collapsed. He died soon afterwards. His wife and two children were out of town at a friend's farm at the time. His mother joined in the outpouring of grief.

LEAH MAINWARING, MOTHER: At the moment, we feel very numb, we're devastated at the loss of our precious son.

JOHN TODD, FORMER WEST COAST COACH: That was out of left field and really shook me up. I had trouble getting my head around it, to be quite frank.

PAUL LOCKYER: Chris Mainwaring had won a legion of fans in Western Australia with his uncompromising style of football and his easy going manner off the field. He maintained his public profile after football through a career in the media and his continuing involvement at high levels with the AFL.

But Mainwaring's former club again finds itself under scrutiny because of his association with Ben Cousins, the tainted champion.

BEN COUSINS, WEST COAST EAGLES PLAYER (May 4, 2007): I am sorry that I have disappointed many people who have supported me in the past.

PAUL LOCKYER: Cousins was suspended from the club indefinitely at the beginning of the year for drug abuse and it was Chris Mainwaring who helped guide him through a rehabilitation program that led to his triumphant return to the field after 16 weeks.

Cousins continues his drug rehabilitation but last weekend it was he who was apparently providing the support for his old mate Chris Mainwaring in his hour of need and was with him on Sunday before his death.

TREVOR NISBETT, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, WEST COAST EAGLES: And had assisted him, brought him some food in the evening and left him and thought he was fine.

PAUL LOCKYER: Ben Cousins has already been interviewed by police and his club says he immediately volunteered to have a drug test taken, which was clear.

Questions about Mainwaring's death will finally be decided by a coronial inquiry, but the episode has served to highlight the pressures that all athletes face in a new era of professional sport.

DAVID CROSBIE, MENTAL HEALTH COUNCIL: I think all football clubs that have large numbers of young men aged 18 to 30, who have significant incomes and significant time will have issues. I mean, I think it's just a given, you would expect them to have issues around drug use.

AFL COMMENTATOR: Now Andrew Johns, he reaches out. That's a try!

PAUL LOCKYER: Drugs has now blemished the career of one of rugby league's greatest players. Andrew Johns confessing all after he was arrested for drugs possession on a recent trip to London.

(excerpt from Channel Nine's The Footy Show)

PHIL GOULD, INTERVIEWER: So, am I to assume that you were still taking drugs in your playing days, does it go that far?


PHIL GOULD: How far?

ANDREW JOHNS: Probably 10 years.

(end of excerpt)

DAMIAN DRUM, FORMER AFL COACH: What happens with the Ben Cousins issue and the Joey Johns issue is the message we are is sending to our young impressionable 16-year-olds throughout Australia and these young people previously had the understanding that they can either go down and dabble in these illicit drugs or pursue life as professional sports person.

What these individuals have done is they've smashed that perception and they've effectively said you can do both.

PAUL LOCKYER: Damien Drum, now a Victorian State MP, is the former coach of the Fremantle Dockers AFL team. He has long argued that the code's drug control programs have been a failure and that the string of scandals involving players of the West Coast Eagles and other clubs clearly demonstrates that.

He hopes that Chris Mainwaring's death will now serve as a warning to all about the duty of care that must be extended to young impressionable footballers.

DAMIAN DRUM: At the moment we're not even prepared to tackle that. We want them, we want to treat these 17 and 18 and 19-year-old kids like superstars, we want to pay them like movie stars and yet at the end of the day when they develop all the bad social habits of our movie stars and pop stars, we start wondering what's going wrong?

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report from Paul Lockyer.