Over the past 20 years we’ve witnessed the gradual synthesis of sports and science – and because it has been gradual, we’ve accepted it as part of the sporting landscape. But is it time to do away with all the scientific analysis and just go back to basics? The Public Apology chief editor Dave Edwards grapples with the question in typically frantic, unstructured and ill-reasoned style.
In the 1980s and early ’90s, there was room for perhaps one quack within a sports organisation. This spot was usually reserved for the sports physio, charged with strapping the lads before a game and giving them a decent rub-down afterwards. The strong, severe smell of Dencorub filled the air like a Beijing smog; indeed, it was the only pharmaceutical product you needed.
After a win, VBs were passed around from a deep, ice-filled Esky; the only pressing issue was whether the beers were cold enough. The old blokes in the team might do a few stretches after the match just so they didn’t pull up too sore at the pool session the next day, but aside from that, there wasn’t much science at all. The squad might look at some grainy VHS footage of the game as part of the debrief, but that was all you needed. And it was bloody good that way, it was.
But we’re a long way from the Errol “Hooter” Alcott days, now. Sport has become a combination of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Elite cricketers sit in sterile AV rooms and heed advice from nerd-ish PhD-accredited bio-mechanical specialists, who tell them in overly technical terms that their bowling action sucks and their core needs strengthening. AFL coaches send their star player overseas to see an experimental German doctor who places artificial ligaments made from an industrial strength polyester fibre next to the athlete’s torn ACL, thus creating a scaffold for the normal healing tissue to grow into. Calf blood is injected into the muscle tissue of certain NRL players in order to get them back on the park, despite there being little evidence that bovines are known for their strong pain thresholds and ability to rehab quickly from injury.
Drugs in sport is now apparently rife – so rife that a Twitter hashtag (YES, A HASHTAG, GOOD FUCKING GOD WHAT HAS THIS WORLD BECOME) on the topic – #drugsinsport – has been trending ever since the news broke that club doctors, shady underworld figures, bookmakers and somewhat-naive athletes have been forging a vile syndicate while we, the sporting consumers, have been left in the dark. But I can’t be bothered discussing the drugs/match-fixing/John Ibrahim tie-ups in this article. The Sporting Regard has done a good job at that, already.
This is all very disturbing but at the same time, not a massive surprise. I’d wager a bet that every bloke who has ever been out in Kings Cross in Sydney has been hit up for coke in a urinal by a current rugby league professional. That’s not a generalisation; that’s an actual fact. Leagueys – and probably AFL players – love a bit of gear off the field. And while that shit ain’t performance-enhancing, it is evidence that professional athletes are, by their very nature, risk-takers.
Most of us who played sport growing up – and achieved some semblance of success – quickly realised that the odds weren’t great in regards to carving a career out of it. So we gave up in favour of a shitty, depressing office job and resigned ourselves to mere spectators. But being a professional athlete these days is different to the way it was in the 70s and 80s, when you had a day job in addition to your “weekend job” of playing sport. There’s a lot of money to be made – but only if you’re good enough. This greed – and need to be at the top echelon of your chosen code – is what is driving this lust for physical greatness. And once you’re at the top, you feel invincible. You’re suddenly rubbing shoulders with nightclub owners and gambling magnates. It’s all a rich tapestry.
But back to the main thrust of this article. There’s absolutely no way that we can do away with the sports science, not now. Imagine if we literally went back to the 80s and 90s. Every NRL player would look like Cameron Smith. No, we need our footy players to be grotesquely muscle-bound, to resemble Staffordshire Terriers, if only so we can identify them in the street. How else are they going to fill out their increasingly body-tight jerseys?
It makes sense that players be as big and strong as possible – and I have no problem with that, because, for me, professional sport is a bit of an unreality, anyway. I’m OK with these so-called “1-percenter” drugs being taken; I really don’t care if these athletes get their tibia bones replaced with fucking walrus tusks, either.
It just sucks that there are so many opportunists these days looking to make a cheeky dollar off stupid, naive athletes, that’s all.
By Dave Edwards