AFL Doctors’ Association president Barry Rigby says secret drug tests about protecting player well fare

Aaron Kirby
The Nightly
3 Min Read
AFL Doctors’ Association president Barry Rigby has doubled down in his avid defence of the AFL’s drug policy.
AFL Doctors’ Association president Barry Rigby has doubled down in his avid defence of the AFL’s drug policy. Credit: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

AFL Doctors’ Association president Barry Rigby has doubled down in his avid defence of the AFL’s drug policy that allows clubs to secretly test players before games to prevent them being caught using.

A bombshell speech by Federal MP Andrew Wilkie in parliament on Tuesday revealed former Melbourne club doctor Zeeshan Arain, ex-Demons president Glen Bartlett and Shaun Smith - the father of accused drug trafficker Joel - had signed documents attesting to the practice at the Demons.

The trio also claimed the club had faked injuries to get players who had tested positive out of games.

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The claims sent the AFL world into a tailspin, but the league say it is an established part of their drug policy and that they would not apologise for taking steps to ensure players with illicit substances in their system do not take part in matches.

In an official statement on Wednesday, Dr Rigby took the same stance, staunchly claiming the whole process was about protecting player welfare and not punishing them.

The head doctor then doubled down on his stance in comments to the Herald Sun, saying it was a community-wide problem that they would be “naive” to think wasn’t impacting AFL players.

“It’s a medical model of care,” Dr Rigby said.

“It’s not designed to find out these culprits and then afford them some sort of punishment. That’s not the goal of the program. The goal of the program is to manage illicit drug use. Recreational drug use is widespread in the community.

“We’d be rather naive to suggest that the AFL is somehow immune from that. If a player does test positive – and drug tests are part of the rehabilitation and remediation process – then I would suggest it would be remiss of us to then allow that player to go out and play, knowing full well that it may well be detrimental to their own health.

“But also, it may be detrimental to the fact that we’re breaching the WADA and the SIA guidelines.

“So it makes no sense to me medically that we shouldn’t be there supporting the players as much as possible.

“The AFL has at least put into place a policy that supports the players. That, for one, should be commended as an initiative to look after the health and wellbeing of the playing group.”

Dr Rigby added that it was just one part of a policy that targeted a complex health issue.

“You’ve got to take a step back and look at the AFL’s illicit drug program,” he said.

“It does hair testing; it identifies players that may be at risk, it adopts a medical model of care where the doctor then intervenes, decides on a course of action, that remediation, rehabilitation counselling or whatever.

“This is all done under a shroud of confidentiality and trust by the players and the doctors, and we take responsibility for that.

“It’s a confidential encounter. The bottom line is that focusing on urine testing is missing the point.”

Sport Integrity Australia is assessing the claims.

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