NRL stop penalising footy players - time for drug law reform

NRL stop penalising footy players - time for drug law reform

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Lee Rhiannon started this petition to National Rugby League

At the end of the National Rugby League 2021 season this elite sport has been linked to recreational drug use among some of its players. The signatories of this petition believe the league officials have acted unfairly in how it has penalised the four players concerned. We call on the NRL to provide leadership and treat recreational drug use as a health and social issue not as a crime.

It is becoming more widely recognised in society that we need to change the conversation about recreational drug use. A number of European countries have decriminalised the use of cocaine and other drugs for personal recreational purposes. It is time for Australia to reform its drug laws. 

We do congratulate the NRL for the outstanding leadership they have provided in the face of the COVID pandemic. This work has allowed fans to continue to enjoy this wonderful game. We urge the NRL to now show leadership on drug use. There are many organisations, such as the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and Unharm, that we believe could assist.  

The rugby league community has changed enormously as seen by more positive attitudes to women players, involvement of First Nations peoples, support for lgbtiq+ communities and the stance against racism. 

The treatment of the four implicated players by senior league managers looks like it was motivated to protect the image of rugby league, not help the players, none of whom were playing in the grand final. We believe that an unrealistic image of rugby league, where no players use currently illegal drugs for recreational purposes, is outdated and wrong. Now is the time for these officials to ensure that the health and rights of players are their primary concerns.

This case does highlight the double standards in our society to drug taking. The four players are in the news because they were charged by police or because of a social media post. What about all the lawyers, journalists, to name just two groupings, and possibly other players, who used cocaine on the rugby league grand final weekend. Maybe even some NRL staff partook. 

The Australian government’s “National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016” estimates that 9% of Australians aged 14 and over have used cocaine at some time in their lives. This fact underlines the need for reform.

The well respected drug law reform campaigner Dr Alex Wodak states that he is convinced that it is important people speak about their drug use – “It humanises the issue …. Stigma ultimately makes it easier for policymakers to ration help for those struggling.”

Unharm is another organisation working for drug law reform: “From lawyers to mechanics to office workers, all sorts of people use drugs and live normal lives. A minority of those people experience problems and fear of punishment often prevents them from seeking help. We need a more open and honest approach to drugs.” The NRL can help achieve this change. 

These comments give a pointer to how the NRL could have taken a more common sense and humane approach to this latest NRL drug episode. Players, who have used recreational drugs should not be forced to front the media and penalised large sums of money. That is not the answer. If these players did have drug problems they can be offered counselling and assistance to deal with any addiction issues.  

Recreational drug use should be treated as a health and social issue not as a crime. 

We urge that the NRL stops fining and suspending players who use drugs for personal recreation and becomes an advocate for society wide drug law reform.

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