2003 February 14, 2015

Shane Warne's World Cup shame

In 2003, taking a tablet given to him by his mother to get rid of a double chin cost him a year of his career

Shane Warne arrives to read a statement to the media announcing he had tested positive to a banned substance © Getty Images

The 2003 World Cup is one remembered by events off the pitch more than those on it. Boycotts by England (of matches in Zimbabwe) and New Zealand (of games in Kenya) left the group and Super Six rounds with too many meaningless contests, and Cricket South Africa president Percy Sonn disgraced his board and the organisers with a drunken performance in Paarl. The biggest shockwaves came two days after the tournament had started, when Shane Warne, at the time one of the game's superstars, was sent home in disgrace after testing positive for a banned substance.

Warne had announced a fortnight earlier the World Cup would be his one-day swansong; his participation in the competition had been in doubt after he dislocated a shoulder playing against England the previous December, but five weeks later he was fit enough to play again. Australia, the defending champions, were the favourites to retain their title. In the six months before the event they had won 15 of their 18 ODIs and that form continued: they were victorious in all 11 games during the World Cup, eventually beating India in the final.

But their campaign was almost derailed before it had started, when on the eve of their opening game against Pakistan the Australian board called a press conference and announced that Warne had advised them he had failed a routine drug test carried out on January 22 and would be returning home immediately.

Warne had been called the day before by the Australian Sports Drugs Agency and told he had tested positive for a diuretic known as Moduretic, a prescription drug widely used in the treatment of hypertension, high blood pressure and fluid retention. It was banned because it can act as a masking agent for steroids by diluting traces of the substance in the urine.

Team officials and Ricky Ponting, the captain, were then informed. Ponting later said he checked everything he took beforehand. "For Warnie, who's been playing international cricket for a decade, to ignore that approach is madness."

A team meeting was called and Steve Bernard, the manager, opened by saying: "Warnie has got something to say to us all." A tearful Warne told them what had happened and there was silence in the room. Ponting eventually told the players to have dinner. "Go and talk amongst yourselves, get over it. Come back at 9pm and erase it from your memory because we've got a game to win."

By that time the board and the ICC had been told and it was agreed Warne would stand down and fly back to Australia for further tests. He faced the media at the press conference and said he was "shocked and absolutely devastated that the test sample indicated a presence of a prohibited substance… because I have not taken performance-enhancing drugs".

Warne admitted taking a fluid tablet, and on his arrival back in Melbourne elaborated further, claiming the tablet had been given to him by his mother. "Contrary to speculation, taking it had nothing to do with the treatment for my shoulder injury or for masking any banned substance."

Warne, whose weight had been an on-off subject of criticism in the media, had been working hard on his fitness and physique since the start of 2002 and appeared to have got himself into good shape.

As he headed back to Australia he still harboured hopes of returning to the World Cup and the Australian management held back on requesting a replacement until the results of Warne's B sample was known. That confirmed the initial findings and Warne was summoned to appear before an ACB anti-doping hearing.

That week the Sydney Morning Herald published a claim that he had taken the diuretic on more than one occasion - contrary to his initial claim. Warne 's lawyers fired off a letter demanding an apology and threatened to sue the newspaper. However, when he appeared in front of the ACB hearing the following week he, in effect, confirmed the story by admitting that he had taken Moduretic more than once.

He told them he had taken the tablet on January 22, given to him by his mother, to improve his appearance in front of the cameras at the press conference where he announced his retirement from ODIs. His mother gave corroborating evidence.

The three-man committee were unimpressed, labelling Warne's evidence, and that of his mother, as "vague, unsatisfactory and inconsistent".

The hearing was told traces of Moduretic had shown up in a test taken in December 2002 but not in a sufficient quantity to trigger a positive finding. The committee said it had "grave doubts that it has full information as to the extent that Warne used Moduretic prior to providing the sample on January 22, 2003".

The crowd at Australia's opening game of the 2003 World Cup show their support for Warne Hamish Blair / © Getty Images

His claims that he had never read the ACB playing conditions - which included the anti-doping code - were also dismissed by the committee, while his assertion that he took the tablet without knowing what was in it was "a reckless act, totally disregarding the consequences". He said the packaging was torn, so he was unable to read the list of ingredients.

The finding continued: "Much of Warne's evidence on these issues was unsatisfactory and the committee does not accept he was entirely truthful in his responses to questions about his knowledge of the ACB anti-doping policy. Coupled with that is his vague, unsatisfactory and inconsistent evidence about the extent of using a Moduretic."

Despite that, the committee only banned him for one year, while the board's own regulations stipulated a two-year suspension unless there were "exceptional circumstances". The leniency was because Dr Peter Harcourt, the committee's medical advisor, gave evidence that Warne could have gained no advantage by taking diuretics, that there was no direct evidence of steroid use, and that his recovery from a dislocated shoulder was in the normal time frame.

Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, was also unimpressed. "The source [of the substance] is not relevant," he said. "You cannot have an IQ over room temperature and be unaware of this as an international athlete."

If Warne was expected to be contrite in the light of the ban, he proved the opposite, insisting he was "a victim of the anti-doping hysteria… a 12-month suspension is a harsh penalty for not checking what I took with anyone.

"I admitted to the hearing that I had taken a tablet in early December. I was doing a lot of wine promotions. I'd had a couple too many bottles of wine and had a few late nights. I took a fluid tablet then. It was to get rid of a double chin. The December test showed small traces of the same thing. That was before my [shoulder] operation. That proves I didn't take the fluid tablet to mask anything."

Although he initially indicated he would appeal, he changed his mind within hours. "Although I find this penalty very harsh, and I am extremely disappointed that this has happened, I have decided that I no longer want to put my family under even more stress," he said. "Enough is enough. I have decided to take the decision of the committee on the chin and try to move on and deal with it the best way I can."

While his team-mates offered him their backing, there was no hiding the sense of frustration at what happened. "As much as the boys are right behind Warney 100%, for someone of his experience, he should have known the risks," Glenn McGrath wrote his newspaper column. "Shane has brought this on himself."

Cracks subsequently appeared, the most visible one when Adam Gilchrist wrote that "there's no doubt people don't like to be deceived". Warne, according to Gideon Haigh in his book On Warne, sent a message via Bernard that he would never speak to Gilchrist again. Although that was denied by Warne himself, he did admit he "was disappointed with a few [team-mates]… very disappointed with them [but] most were very supportive".

There was no outcry from the Australian public either. Warne appeared on a TV chat show shortly after the ban was announced. "No, I didn't [listen to the drug experts]." he said. "The same as when I was at school. I was always seeing the headmaster every week and he was practising his golf swing on my behind. Whether, rightly or wrongly, mate, whether you hate me, you like me, you love the way I play or whatever, the facts of the matter are that I don't read much, I don't take a lot of interest in the outside world. I just play cricket." A poll conducted after the interview revealed 60% of the audience supported the punishment.

What happened next

  • Warne served his ban and returned to action on February 10, 2004 when he turned out for Victoria 2nd XI on the second day of its three-day match against Queensland at Junction Oval in Melbourne. Ten days later he was named in the Australian squad for the following month's tour of Sri Lanka.

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Bibliography
On Warne Gideon Haigh (Simon & Schuster 2012)

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