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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 October 2007, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
English cricket to assist addicts
By Oliver Brett

Keith Piper
Keith Piper says his second positive test ended his playing career
Drug abuse, alcohol and gambling within English cricket have become the focus of a major new campaign to clean up the professional game and raise standards.

The Professional Cricketers Association has launched an "addictive behaviour programme" after evidence that players are jeopardising their livelihoods.

PCA director Jason Ratcliffe, a former player, told BBC Sport: "Cricket has a history of people getting into trouble.

"In the worst case scenario there have been a fair amount of suicides."

The PCA will make a video available to all 18 first-class counties' first XI coaches on 8 November.

It combines advice from past cricketers who suffered addictions and fictional scenarios where actors play the parts of cricketers who are drawn into addictive behaviour.

Ratcliffe was in the same Warwickshire dressing room as Paul Smith, a fast bowler who told a Sunday tabloid in 1996, soon after his retirement, that he had used drugs throughout his career.

Jason Ratcliffe
Hopefully if someone's worrying about a colleague they will know what to do about it and hopefully we will nip the problem in the bud

Jason Ratcliffe
PCA group director

He also played with Keith Piper, who tested positive for cannabis in 1997 and 2005.

Ratcliffe said: "They were using substances but at the time I didn't know anything about it.

"That is one of the areas we are trying to get over in the programme.

"You might not know what's going on and the programme might educate you to see these instances and judge whether you might have a problem and what to do about it.

"Hopefully if someone's worrying about a colleague they will know what to do about it and hopefully we will nip the problem in the bud."

The video, available as a powerpoint presentation, features candid talk from Piper about his drug use.

Former Gloucestershire and Surrey bowler Richard Doughty - who became an alcoholic - is also featured.

He describes how his problem cost him his career, two marriages and relationships with his four children.

Oliver Brett

Players wishing to contact the PCA about their problems will be put in touch with a professional from Performance Healthcare.

Alternatively, they can contact Piper, Doughty or an anonymous gambler with cricketing links who also appears in the video.

Ratcliffe set up a confidential helpline in 2005 to help cricketers, past and present, with any problems they might have.

He was conscious that in extreme cases in the past, many had taken their own lives.

He said: "In all honesty, when we set it up we thought it would be minimal numbers - maybe six in a year - who would call, but in two years we've had over 25 people call.

"Probably half of the calls that come in would be in relation to addictions but the demand is greater than we thought and we are sending the message out that we are here to help."

David Bairstow: 1998, aged 46
Harold Gimblett: 1978, aged 63
Andrew Stoddart: 1915, at 52
Albert Trott: 1914, aged 41
Arthur Shrewbury: 1903, at 47

Peter Kay, of Sporting Chance - the counselling charity set up by former England and Arsenal footballer Tony Adams, said he was "very glad" about the PCA's new initiative.

He said the lifestyle of a professional cricketer left players vulnerable to addiction.

"The characteristics that you need to get to the top in sport - a tunnel-like vision, commitment and focus - are the same that you would find in an addict," said Kay.

"With the pressure of cricket - which has the highest suicide rate in any sport in the world - there are long hours of boredom and long hours of being away from home to factor in.

"When people get bored, people who are primarily athletes who get a buzz from sport, if they don't get that a whole lot of other things do fill that gap.

"That's the way they will have problems with addictions."

Graham Wagg
Bowler Graham Wagg was banned for 15 months in 2004

Ratcliffe wants his programme to be seen in a positive light, alongside other educational initiatives - such as safe driving and avoiding skin cancer.

"If we take out the stresses and the strains, the players' performances will be better. We are trying to make people better people and better cricketers," he said.

"We're hoping it will have a knock-on effect and lead to increasingly successful England teams."

The programme also has the full backing of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

ECB science and medicine manager Simon Timson said: "People from all sections of society face challenges with addictions such as alcohol, gambling, and drugs so it would be naive to think it will never happen to a professional cricketer.

"I'm delighted the PCA has taken this positive and proactive step."

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