opinion

MITCHELL JOHNSON: AFL footballers don’t deserve drug test loopholes denied to athletes in every other sport

Mitchell Johnson
The Nightly
4 Min Read
The AFL’s ‘unapologetic’ stance over its drugs cover-up is full of contradictions. The league should never allow young players to be in any doubt over what is right and what is wrong.
The AFL’s ‘unapologetic’ stance over its drugs cover-up is full of contradictions. The league should never allow young players to be in any doubt over what is right and what is wrong. Credit: Supplied

After a week of controversy over the AFL’s illicit drugs cover-up – and the league’s “unapologetic” stance – there remains a question the AFL has never really answered.

Why does the AFL think it is above Sports Integrity Australia and all other sports in Australia?

And what is it about professional Australian rules players that means they require a drug safety net that no other athlete in Australia receives?

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We are seeing plenty of excuses coming out for the cover-up. It’s all about protecting player wellbeing and welfare supposedly – not protecting the AFL’s brand.

It’s a voluntary code and it requires the strictest doctor-patient confidentiality. Which is quite convenient all-round.

There are contradictions everywhere when you try to sift through this mess – particularly when it comes to the players’ ability to use mental health to avoid recording a strike under the AFL’s three-strikes policy.

No doubt some AFL players experience genuine mental health issues.

But even in those instances, how can anyone’s mental health problems be assisted by allowing them to use a non-controlled drug? If anything, wouldn’t doing drugs only make their mental health issues worse?

Helping create loopholes for players to use drugs and get away with it has only encouraged them to continue to do it without consequence.

Insiders this week claimed about 100 current players were being granted secret immunity from the AFL’s three-strikes policy by being placed in what was called “the medical model”, where strikes were not counted. That is a huge problem.

Even back in my cricket playing days, as cricketers we used to hear talk about AFL players testing positive and getting away with it. It used to annoy me as we all followed the same Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (now SIA) rules, or so we thought.

Think about all those other AFL players who do the right thing and players from other sports around the country who make a commitment to their chosen sport and know that you just can’t take illicit substances.

It is not only unfair but also shows their lack of commitment to their careers, their clubs and their teammates.

I’m sure some of the players who take illicit drugs have had more than their fair share of chances and are getting paid very well, yet they choose to do the wrong thing.

Some will say cocaine is not really performance-enhancing so who cares, players are only human and there is a wider drug issue in society.

My answer to that is: you sign a contract, you choose to play elite sport, you make sacrifices like the rest of the professional athletes.

Listening to the discussion about protection of players’ identities this week has been interesting.

It was set up that way to give players the chance to get off drugs, also protecting them if they were the victim of a spiking incident or inadvertently somehow took something.

Under the policy, players were to receive a $5000 fine and undergo counselling and target testing on first detection. Following a second strike, their name gets made public and they serve a four-game suspension. A third strike is meant to be a 12-week ban.

Then what comes after that, losing your contract?

But the bizarre thing is whenever a player is caught red-handed through a photo or video that circulates on social media, their name is plastered everywhere by the media and they are handed the standard two-week ban for “conduct unbecoming”. No cover-up for them when the cat is already out of the bag.

Surely if all players were exposed to the same risk of being splashed all over the papers, it would make them think about being accountable for their choices. In all honesty though, you know you’re risking your career and integrity, well at least outside of the AFL anyway.

The other big victims in this now are players who are late withdrawals from matches with a genuine injury. Everyone will now be watching and wondering whether they are on drugs.

It is so unfair for those players who have always done the right thing and have integrity and respect for their careers.

The fans should feel angry, disappointed and lied to.

As a parent, how does this make you feel if you have an aspiring child who wants to become an AFL star? Is this a culture that is acceptable?

It’s all very sad to be honest. Our kids just want to play sport and enjoy it. As parents, we want that too but the worry is whether our children will always make the right decisions to be the best that they can be as they grow up.

The AFL should never allow young players to be in any doubt over what is right and what is wrong.

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