Cricket: Aussie players face the beer facts

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The Independent Online
THERE IS sobering news for Australia's sozzled rugby league players. Clubs are to test for blood alcohol levels after a series of incidents have shown that their highly-paid athletes just cannot hold their drink.

The latest revelation, that the Australian Test captain, Brad Fittler, who admits to being a "none or 100 beers drinker", was dumped unconscious outside a police station by a taxi driver after a harbour cruise that left him unable to remember his address, follows a series of other booze- fuelled embarrassments.

Before the season started, four North Sydney players were fined after a nightclub brawl in Wagga Wagga while South Sydney's Julian O'Neill was suspended and given counselling after trashing a motel room.

The Penrith hooker, Craig Gower, was dropped from the Test side after dropping his trousers in public while the Manly winger, John Hopoate, already in trouble after a late-night punch-up, was said to have turned up drunk for training.

The incidents could not have come at a worse time for rugby league, which competes against Australian Rules, football and rugby union for players, supporters and sponsors.

John Brady, the spokesman for the National Rugby League, said that the Fittler incident would be investigated along with the others.

"The League has penalties in place if needed," he said. "Some clubs already have blood alcohol testing at training."

However, the League's chief executive ruled out a complete alcohol ban. "Prohibition hasn't worked ever," Neil Whittaker said. "We're not talking about enlisting an army of people to continually catch players out. The game is being let down by a reckless few who are taking all the kudos away from what's happening on the field.

"It's not an issue unique to rugby league, but like other issues we intend to get on top of it. Players must realise they are role models for thousands of people and should adjust their behaviour accordingly."

The game in Britain, often condemned by Australians as being played by pot-bellied forwards too fond of their beer, has, by comparison, been having a quiet night in, although the Great Britain internationals, Bobbie Goulding and Brian McDermott, and the Wigan hooker, Jon Clarke, have all faced recent assault charges over separate alcohol-related incidents.

At the other end of the scale St Helens' teetotal coach, Ellery Hanley, imposed a complete ban on alcohol for three weeks over Easter. Saints are currently top of Super League.

Cricket's drink problem, meanwhile, centres on spectators rather than players. Recent one-day matches between West Indies and the touring Australians have been disrupted by fans. Sussex are to operate a strict no-alcohol policy when South Africa play India in the World Cup at Hove on 15 May. The county is taking all possible measures to ensure that the game, already a 6,500 sell-out, passes off peacefully.