Some condemnation but rather more understanding ought to be extended to Sam Chalmers, the teenage Melrose aspirant rugby player who has admitted taking a banned drug and has been barred from rugby for two years as a result.
Much more searching questions need to be asked of the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) and its member clubs.
Why did Chalmers do it? Pressure is the one-word answer. For most of his 19 years, rugby has been his abiding passion and, like most youngsters with the ability to match their sporting enthusiasm, he dreamed of playing for his country. But as various age grades approached and passed, he was always on the edge of selection and not quite making it. The frustration he felt must have been immense.
His coaches told him that while he had the height and the skill, he was just not quite heavy enough to compete at the top level. Presumably he tried eating the necessary foods and training in the gym in order to achieve the necessary weight gain, but clearly it did not work out.
Presumably also, he was aware of the risks, not just to his own health, but of being found out and banned, stemming from taking the only other option that must have appeared to have been available to him – consuming anabolic steroids. They are all too easily available at low cost over the internet. And then, when there was an unexpected call-up to the Scotland under-20 squad, he was caught by a random test.
This is more of a sad than a reprehensible story and, thankfully, according to SRU drug-testing statistics, it is a rare lapse. Chalmers has made a full confession, his remorse is plain, and, admirably, he blames no-one but himself.
However, rugby’s authorities need to be asked whether a physical regime in which weight is as much a vital statistic as are speed and skill is being handled correctly. Participation in sport is good for an individual’s body and mind, but is it serving that purpose when the elite level of a sport demands the body be developed in an extreme way?
With the advent of professional rugby, where there are now substantial financial rewards for success, it is commonplace for players, when they become professional, to become more than a quarter heavier than what might be regarded as their natural weight. There are concerns that this may lead to long-term health problems.
Advice given to coaches needs to be reviewed and clarified. Where there are individuals whose frame is such that they can thrive with extra weight, fine. But for others who may not have such physiques, there should be no pressure to become abnormally and dangerously overweight.
More generally, as we expect more from athletes, this case must serve as a reminder to administrators in other sports that a success-at-at-all-costs mentality may actually be detrimental to young people’s health and well-being.
No more nice guise for cycle safety
Nice is a word that became so over-used that its original meaning – pleasant or agreeable – has become expanded to range from bland and dull to nasty. All these definitions and a few more – insulting, patronising, misleading, dangerous – cyclists seem to think, apply to the Nice Way Code, a Scottish Government campaign intended to cut down on cycling accidents.
The advice in the campaign is mainly aimed at getting cyclists to be sensible, such as do not pedal past buses and trucks on the left-hand side, which can be in a driver’s blindspot and invites an accident if the vehicle is about to turn left.
Some of the messages are curiously phrased, suggesting to cyclists that they should not pedal through red lights because that will make motorists angry. It may have that effect but the facts that it is dangerous, and against the law, are surely more germane. Another urges cyclists not to zoom along pavements because they are no longer four years old, which misses the point that is it dangerous to pedestrians.
The call by Green MSP Alison Johnstone for the campaign to be replaced with messages that take the subject seriously has been greeted with umbrage by some motoring lobbyists. Somewhat ironically, they seem to be replicating in print the road rage inconsideration of two-wheel road users that some of the adverts are trying to curb.
Such mutual recrimination strongly suggests that this campaign is failing. The Scottish Government says it is commissioning a review to see how effective it has been. We rather think we know the answer – not very. The nicest thing ministers can do is to heed Ms Johnstone and