EDITORIAL: Addiction-enabling AFL puts player safety at risk

Editorial
The Nightly
2 Min Read
AFL chief Andrew Dillon and the governing body’s bureaucrats are under fire.
AFL chief Andrew Dillon and the governing body’s bureaucrats are under fire. Credit: The Nightly

From the moment independent MP Andrew Wilkie dropped the bombshell in Parliament that the AFL was conducting an off-the-books testing regime to help players dodge the consequences of illicit drug taking, the league’s response has been one of arrogance and obfuscation.

Even after a week in which sports administrators and current and former players from other codes have spoken as one to condemn the league’s actions in encouraging players to fake injuries, the AFL continues with its absurd pretence that it has no case to answer.

The game’s chief executive, Andrew Dillon said he was “unapologetic” about the workaround, which he said was devised with player welfare in mind.

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The implication there was that the media and footy-loving public were all a lot of nosy parkers for daring to continue to ask questions about how and why this preposterous situation came into effect.

Has the ghost of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen got himself a corner office somewhere inside AFL House to run the game’s communication strategy?

“Don’t you worry about that,” was the disgraced former Queensland premier’s standby response to journalists asking questions he didn’t want to answer, and it’s emblematic of the AFL’s attitude today.

And now, the AFL is refusing even to release its corporate drugs policy, to which its desk-bound employees are beholden.

A spokesman confirmed the league had such a policy, but would share no details, therefore shedding no light on whether the AFL holds the same concerns for the welfare of drug-using employees who wear sleeves in their work attire as it professes to have for those who do not.

It’s all part of the AFL’s pervasive attitude of exceptionalism.

No other big business would dream of having one drug policy for one group and an entirely separate one for another.

The best kind of leadership is via action. The AFL’s bosses should be setting the standard, not hiding behind transparent platitudes about player wellbeing.

The AFL thinks it is occupying the moral high ground with its welfare argument. It isn’t.

The fact is that this culture of cover-up puts players at greater risk.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 03: AFL CEO Andrew Dillon speaks to media during a 2024 AFL Gather Round Media Opportunity at the Adelaide Oval on April 03, 2024 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)
The game’s chief executive, Andrew Dillon said he was “unapologetic” about the workaround, which he said was devised with player welfare in mind.  Credit: Mark Brake/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

The prospect of losing your livelihood and obliterating your reputation is a powerful incentive not to take drugs. Sitting on the sidelines for a week with a taped-up ankle is far less so.

And by enabling addiction, the AFL is jeopardising the league’s integrity. You don’t want professional sportspeople in the debt of drug dealers. That’s a fast track to match-fixing and corruption.

Dillon and the AFL are right in that they have an obligation to look after their employees.

At the moment, they are failing miserably on that account.

Responsibility for the editorial comment is taken by The Nightly Editor-in-Chief Anthony De Ceglie.

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