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Vasco herald a welcome departure from smoke and mirrors

Club decision: Vasco da Gama setting an example over drugs

When Vasco da Gama took the bold decision to introduce mandatory drug-testing for those who wish to play football for them in the coming season, clubs, sporting associations and politicians went ducking for cover.

Not a peep could be heard from them in the wake of a move that, if followed through with real zest, could just be the platform for not only cleaning up sport in this country but also for recalibrating societal norms.

The change of attitude in Bermuda in the past decade or more, which has led to a blind eye being turned to drug use in sport and life in general, has meant that families have been turned away in droves from the senior game.

It is the Bermuda Football Association’s inability to warn off antisocial elements, in conjunction with law enforcement, that meant a noble decision to stage junior matches in front of senior matches fell flat on its face.

The aim was to give a greater profile to the youth, as was the case during the more glorious years of the 1970s and 1980s, but families balked at finishing times that had them in too close proximity with those who were attracted to senior matches — bringing with them an antisocial feel and wanton drug usage in open spaces. (It is worth noting here that when cannabis was decriminalised to reduce the court backlog for simple possession and to erase the stain of a criminal record for young black men in particular, it was simply that ... decriminalised. It was not made legal. Decriminalisation comes with the “three strikes” rule.)

So starting times that meant junior matches were done long before grounds swelled in anticipation of the senior matches proved counterproductive to the original intent.

“We want to create the right sort of environment,” Vasco coach Brian Dickinson said of his club’s initiative. “If you have players who participate in a certain lifestyle, they probably have associates who also participate in that lifestyle.

“We don’t want to bring that around a club which doesn’t have a reputation for antisocial behaviour. It’s a family-oriented club.”

The BFA will tell you that drug abuse among young people in Bermuda is not a football problem, but rather a societal problem.

Unfortunately, though, those who seek to profit from the drug trade and those whom they seek to align themselves to are football junkies in their downtime. It is the criminal element’s pastime of choice.

If Vasco can make a ready impact, others should follow. Not only in the greater participatory sports of football and cricket, but in every sport.

You cannot represent Bermuda if you cannot pass a drug test, which is fine and dandy. But a look at the recent senior teams to represent the island, especially in cricket where a veritable first division outfit ushered our decline to the lower reaches of the international game, reveals that we are not necessarily leaving these shores with the best possible teams.

The argument goes that if you are not fit to play for your country, nor should you be fit to play for a club — especially a community club.

This is where Vasco come in. Their stance is to be applauded.

Deborah Hunter, the Bermuda Sport Anti-Doping Authority chief executive, told us this week: “We’re hoping that this true and worthy example is going to be followed by other clubs.”

What has not been spoken of is the cost, for testing players — whether it be mandatory or random — will not be inexpensive. Rather than sports clubs using that as an excuse not to do the right thing, maybe the Government can provide such assistance when it gets around to fulfilling the financial pledge it made to the clubs at election time.

Better to be footing the bill for the prohibitive cost of island-wide drug-testing, keeping all our sport clean — international and domestic — than having the sports minister angling for the legalisation of cannabis. God help us if that ever came to pass.