EDITORIAL: Bleating about ‘player welfare’ is a cop out from the AFL

Editorial
The Nightly
3 Min Read
AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon has addressed allegations of secret illicit-drug testing.
AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon has addressed allegations of secret illicit-drug testing. Credit: AAP

Depending who you talk to, it’s either the AFL’s biggest scandal since the Essendon doping saga or no big deal.

Revelations players are being assisted in getting around the code’s drug rules by having them covertly tested for illicit substances and instructed to “fake an injury” if that test showed traces of drugs in order to avoid official match-day testing have shocked the public.

But the AFL has remained staunchly unrepentant.

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The game’s chief executive Andrew Dillon says the workaround — which allowed players who would otherwise have tested positive to avoid copping lengthy bans under the sport’s anti-doping code — was developed with player wellbeing in mind.

“We are unapologetic about club and AFL doctors taking the correct steps to ensure that any player who they believe has an illicit substance in their system does not take part in any AFL match and that doctor patient confidentially is upheld and respected,” he said.

“The medical interests and welfare of players is a priority for the AFL given everything we know about the risks facing young people generally and those who play our game in particular.”

In a written statement, the league noted that AFL players ”are not immune to the societal issues faced by young people” and “illicit drug use problems commonly co-occur with other mental health conditions”.

In other words: we’re the good guys here, just looking out for the welfare of a handful of poor, vulnerable, highly-paid professional athletes who don’t have the brains or the self-discipline to stay off the gear for nine months of the year.

You’ve almost got to admire their chutzpah.

Coaching legend Mick Malthouse certainly isn’t swallowing that cop-out.

“It is just so damning. It is going to place every player, every club official and, in particular, club doctors under scrutiny. The ramifications are very broad,” he said.

An irate Malthouse said it may even eclipse the Essendon peptides scandal in magnitude, given the league’s complicity.

The AFL can’t seriously think people are dumb enough to buy their nonsense about being motivated solely by player welfare.

This is a cover-up, plain and simple.

That’s evidenced by the fact that Dillon won’t even give details on the number of players who test positive for illicit drugs.

Apparently, that information isn’t in the public interest.

It’s certainly not in the best interests of the league’s public relations. To admit the scale of the problem would be to put at risk millions of dollars in sponsorships, broadcast deals and ticket sales.

Plenty of industries have compulsory drugs testing, including mining, construction, aviation and transport.

Those industries don’t give their employees a practice go before the real deal. If you test positive, you face the consequences.

But once again, the AFL thinks it is entitled to a special set of rules.

And it’s that attitude of exceptionalism that’s led it to believe it has the right to deceive fans — only in the name of player welfare, of course.

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

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