AFL refuses to release corporate drugs policy in wake of illicit substance abuse player scandal

Headshot of Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake
The Nightly
The AFL has refused to release its corporate drugs policy in the wake of an illicit substance scandal concerning players. Pictured: CEO Andrew Dillon.
The AFL has refused to release its corporate drugs policy in the wake of an illicit substance scandal concerning players. Pictured: CEO Andrew Dillon. Credit: JOEL CARRETT/AAPIMAGE

The AFL is refusing to publicly release its corporate drugs policy in the wake of bombshell revelations over how it handles illicit substance abuse among players.

The Nightly posed a series of questions to the AFL about its corporate workplace drugs policy, including whether it followed other industries, such as the resources sector, by having similar standards in place for desk-bound workers as it does for employees in the field.

It is understood contradictions between how players and bureaucrats are treated under the drugs policy have been a bone of contention for many years.

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An AFL spokesman said it had a policy, but refused to share it publicly.

It’s another serious blow to the credibility of the governing body, which has been reeling from public backlash since independent MP Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to air shocking allegations of widespread “off-the-books drug testing” by clubs.

Under the secret testing regime, players who record positive results are encouraged by clubs to fake injuries so they can avoid game-day officials and face sanctions.

Last week, AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon said the league was “unapologetic” about giving club doctors powers to withdraw players from games to prevent testing positive.

On Tuesday, reformed addict and champion jockey Jamie Evans joined the chorus of critics by dubbing the AFL drugs policy “f…ing useless” and so soft it could endanger players’ lives by enabling addiction.

“The penalty at the moment is nothing and it gives them no incentive not to do it again,” Evans told The Australian.

“They (the AFL) think they’re protecting them, but they’re doing the opposite.

“They’re putting them in such a bad position because so many people don’t understand addiction.

“I bet the person who made up these rules has no idea about addiction.”

Evans said he warned AFL clubs as far back as 2015 that their policy was too soft.

The Australian also reported on Tuesday that the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Dick Pound, was so furious with the AFL’s trickery that he compared its off-the-books testing loophole with the notorious doping tactics of East Germany and Russia in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Drug testing is not meant to be unofficial,” he said.

“If they test and find that an athlete tests positive, there’s an obligation to report on that and for the consequences to follow.

“Clearly that is not in the spirit or the rule of the (WADA) code and if the AFL was really interested in making sure that they were code compliant, they would get an opinion from WADA whether, ‘If we do this, is this bad or good?’”

The AFL has publicly stood behind its drug testing policy despite the wide-ranging criticism, saying: “The policy seeks to reduce substance use and drug-related harms for AFL players and aims to inform and rehabilitate players through education and intervention.”

AFL Players Association president and champion Geelong footballer Patrick Dangerfield also defended the policy.

“I think there are a few dinosaurs living under a rock out there, with regard to the realities of modern society, whether or not you agree with it,” he said.

“We get it doesn’t make it OK, but we also have to live in the land that is reality.”

Writing for The Nightly, former Australian netball captain Caitlin Bassett said the fake injuries scam being supported by the AFL was “offensive to professional athletes across Australia”.

“The AFL is not doing players justice by not holding them to account,” she wrote.

“I can guarantee if a player on $800,000-a-year knew they would get sacked if they took illicit drugs, they wouldn’t do it.”


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