Leading Article: The times are out of joint

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Back in '92, the then Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, admitted that he had smoked marijuana at college, but had not inhaled. Such startling evidence of incompetence should have meant the immediate end of his political career. But the Americans were in forgiving mood.

Not so New Zealand Cricket. Their unfortunate bowler, Dion Nash (now of Middlesex), was involved in an incident with two colleagues at a barbecue before Christmas - and marijuana was taken. Mr Nash has since explained that he "merely simulated its use". Overlooking the charitable explanation for this drug abuse a la Clinton (that perhaps Nash was blind drunk at the time), Peter McDermott, chairman of NZC, has now suspended all three, lamenting that "their behaviour is endemic of the malaise that appearsto have infected the game". Well, we know what he means. But isn't he overdoing it?

There are two broad reasons for getting upset when sportsmen and women fall from grace. The first is when drugs are taken to gain unfair advantage, allowing godlike reactions, titanic strength and inducing a cosmic will to win. None of these qualities isusually associated with cannabis-smoking. The stoned cricketer is the one who falls asleep in the outfield, bursts into fits of giggles when Shane Warne is half-way through his run-in, or becomes obsessional about the umpire's socks. Such be haviour does not win Test matches. Indeed, the only people at a cricket match who might possibly benefit from dope-smoking are the spectators.

The second is the effect on the young people for whom these sportspeople are role-models. Isn't the knowledge that their heroes are users of soft drugs likely either to disillusion them or to serve as a bad example to them? Quite possibly. But why is this argument applied only to drug-taking?

Look at what else some sporting celebrities get up to. They drink themselves into a stupor, smash up taxis, stamp on each others' heads and beat up their spouses, all without raising an eyebrow or losing a day's pay. Are they not just as endemic of the malaise, or something? Apparently not.

"This has been one of the darkest weeks in the history of our sport," moaned the lachrymose Mr McDermott. He ought to relax. Perhaps some of his team could show him how.