Listening to the ‘player’s voice’ is pivotal to analysis of the Essendon supplements scandal, a sport management expert says.
Dr Caroline Riot, a lecturer at Griffith Business School, believes the banning of 34 AFL players by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) presents an opportunity to re-examine sport’s governing structure.
“In the aftermath we need to understand why players, who receive anti-doping education and are aware of their responsibilities regarding the use of substances, agree to be injected with substances despite their education, and then fail to disclose their use,” Dr Riot says.
“Why are our players and athletes complicit in a culture of substance abuse, secrecy and concealment, and what can be done to change this?”
Caroline Riot researches elite athlete personal development and performance, elite sport systems, and health and physical activity promotion at Griffith University.
She has worked as a consultant to professional and international sport organisations including the International Olympic Committee, International Cricket Council, International Association of Athletics Federations and Queensland Rugby Union.
“Looking forward we need to examine the inherent cultures and ethics in sport and the pressures and expectations on players from club management.”
Dr Riot says a great opportunity now exists for sport to re-examine its governance structures, its communication processes, its priorities and support systems.
“This applies not only to individual players and athletes but also to the administrators and coaches who need considerable and targeted support and education to produce true excellence in performance and the personal development of players and athletes.
“While I feel in some way sympathetic for the players in question and the club and its supporting community, for me this really highlights an opportunity for sport and our broader communities to discuss and debate the culture that exists in professional sport and high performance sport more generally.
“There is a need for change, a move towards a culture of disclosure to prevent substance abuse in sport.”
Once immediate reactions of shock and disbelief among the AFL community have passed, Dr Riot proposes that the focus should turn to longer-term considerations such as the implications for players, coaches and administrators during the coming year and beyond.
“What does this mean for players’ careers? What does it mean for new talent coming through and its potential to rise?
“How do the Essendon club and the AFL code rebuild from here, and regain trust and faith in the sport and its ‘actors’? How can these processes be reinvigorated?
“This is an opportunity for positive change and we now have to find innovative and new ways of thinking about how we educate young people, coaches and administrators.”
For Dr Riot the outcome of the CAS investigation was not unexpected. “It’s an authority that ‘plays by the rules’ and has the right to enforce such penalties given the evidence provided.”