Castleford Tigers’ full-back Zak Hardaker has been provisionally suspended after testing positive for cocaine and will now miss the Rugby League World Cup starting this month.
Hardaker produced a positive test for illegal substances after a Super 8s game against Leeds on 8 September. He was subsequently omitted from the Castleford squad that was defeated by Leeds in the Grand Final on 7 October.
This revelation has also led to Hardaker being ruled out of the England squad that will compete in the Rugby League World Cup in Australia.
Hardaker was one of three nominees for the ‘Man of Steel’ award this year, having been instrumental in Castleford’s performance in the Super League, with them winning the League Leaders’ Shield for the first time in the club’s history. With 13 tries scored in 30 games this season, Hardaker is one of the most impressive players in Rugby League today, thus adding to the shock that this news has caused.
Hardaker released a statement on Castleford’s website, apologising to the fans, his teammates and club staff for his “enormous error of judgement.”
He goes on to express his remorse for letting the club down in “one of the most important weeks in [Castleford’s] history” and claiming that he would never take any substances to enhance his performance on the rugby field.
As well as the obvious issues that this raises for Hardaker, Castleford and the England Rugby League team, a professional sportsman’s use of cocaine raises the wider issue of whether professionalism in sport is on the decline.
Hardaker’s is not the only case of a sportsman falling foul of the law in recent months as both Wayne Rooney, the Everton footballer, and Ben Stokes, the England cricketer, have been charged by the police in drink-related incidents. Their actions, along with Hardaker’s, beg the question of whether professionalism is declining.
As role models for people across society, figures such as Hardaker should be setting examples and conducting themselves appropriately both on and off the sports field. Due to the media attention that players get in the modern day, they cannot afford to be caught breaking out of their professional persona.
Sports players should not be expected to be faultless but, with their fame and exposure, they surely have a moral duty to lead by example as adoring youngsters all over the country are keen to follow their every move.
Hardaker’s experience with drugs is arguably the worst way in which a sports player could disgrace themselves. That is not to say that Rooney or Stokes’ actions are excusable, but the use of cocaine is an irreversible mistake for a role model. As juvenile delinquency rates are higher than ever before, sports stars taking Class A drugs will only serve to perpetuate this problem.
At a personal level, Hardaker’s entire career has been thrown into jeopardy by this mistake. At 25 years old, having won the Man of Steel award in 2015, he is at the peak of his career and has many more years of rugby ahead of him.
The severity of his punishment is therefore a contentious issue. His mistake was a drastic one and such a gross act of unprofessionalism should not be treated lightly. Yet, this was a mistake, and he knows it. There is a very important decision to be made as to whether Hardaker should be forgiven and allowed to continue to express himself in the game that he loves or be made an example of with a long ban, to deter other athletes from making similar mistakes.
What is not debateable, however, is that Hardaker’s actions reflect the worrying state of professionalism amongst some sports players today. Clubs across the country will be hoping that their star will not be the next to break the ranks.
Image Courtesy of Steve Hirst