Andrew Wilkie’s speech to federal parliament alleging drug use was covered up by the AFL has rocked the league

Andrew Wilkie
The Nightly
6 Min Read
Independent Member for Clark Andrew Wilkie made several bombshell claims about the AFL  covering up illict drug use by players.
Independent Member for Clark Andrew Wilkie made several bombshell claims about the AFL covering up illict drug use by players. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

I rise to bring the House’s attention to deeply troubling allegations of egregious misconduct within the AFL provided by former Melbourne Football Club president Glen Bartlett, former Melbourne team doctor Zeeshan Arain and Shaun Smith, father of Melbourne player and now alleged drug trafficker Joel Smith.

The allegations include: the prevalence of drug abuse and other illicit behaviour across the AFL; off-the-books drug testing of players at Dorevitch Pathology in Heidelberg, facilitated by the former chief medical officer of the AFL, Peter Harcourt; the resting of players testing positive in these secret tests ostensibly on account of injury; wilful inaction by AFL chairman Richard Goyder and former CEO Gillon McLachlan; and the removal of Mr Bartlett as president of Melbourne after he suggested to Mr Goyder and Mr McLachlan that AFL officials be regularly drug tested.

The allegations are credible and detailed and provided in signed statements which have been given to me and which clearly identify the sources of the information.

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The allegations are obviously deeply troubling, particularly the allegation of the systemic failure by the AFL to effectively test for and prevent the use of prohibited drugs or to support or, where necessary, sanction players and officials found to have used prohibited drugs. It’s deeply troubling because such appalling behaviour endangers the lives, safety and future of players and officials, subverts the official drug testing conducted by Sport Integrity Australia on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Authority and is a fraud on the governments that provide millions of dollars in support to the AFL, directly and indirectly, through tax breaks, grants and beneficial capital works conditional on the AFL being a signatory to and complying with the World Anti-Doping Code.

This is not conjecture, with Dr Arain describing the matter clearly in this signed statement here. He states: The off the books testing took place in Heidelberg Dorevitch. The former Chief Health Officer of the AFL, Peter Harcourt, gave me the contact of the guy at Heidelberg who would do the testing. Here is what happens as it has been described to me. The AFL wants a player to play at all costs, and so the cover-up begins.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 16:  Melbourne Football Club doctor Zeeshan Arain speaks to the media during a Melbourne Demons AFL press conference at AAMI Park on May 16, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Former Melbourne Football Club doctor Zeeshan Arain. Credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

If there are no illegal drugs in the player’s system, they are free to play. If there are drugs in their system, the player is often asked to fake an injury. They are advised to lie about their condition while the results of the off-the-books tests are kept secret and never shared with Sport Integrity Australia or WADA.

In other words, hundreds of thousands of Australians will watch the game not knowing that the game has been secretly manipulated by the AFL. Thousands of Australians will also bet on that game not knowing that the game has been secretly manipulated by the AFL.

So the next time you hear a player has a hamstring injury you could be forgiven for wondering what’s really going on. But as Dr Arain also explains, this isn’t just a Melbourne problem; it’s an AFL problem, with multiple players coming to Melbourne from other teams with pre-existing cocaine dependencies more than suggesting that drug testing workarounds are in fact commonplace elsewhere in the AFL.

Moreover, the documents in my possession also indicate a shocking unwillingness by senior AFL executives to address drug abuse by players and executives, particularly in relation to cocaine usage. For instance, here are very detailed notes of a telephone meeting between Gillon MacLachlan, Richard Goyder and Glen Bartlett. Two things jump out at me from this record.

The first is the cavalier way the AFL executives discussed Mr Bartlett’s concerns about alleged cocaine use by Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin, which is reflected in this signed statement by Mr Bartlett where he says he believes efforts were made by AFL executives and others to cover up Mr Goodwin’s alleged cocaine use, specifically hiding their concerns about the alleged drug use for up to 18 months.

That seems to me to be well explained by Mr Bartlett’s testimony where he states: They all knew my views on this issue and that as an employment lawyer I would have taken appropriate action to deal with the alleged illegal behaviour and would have refused to turn a ‘blind eye’ to it. The second thing that jumps out at me is that Mr Bartlett made it clear to Mr Goyder and Mr McLachlan that he planned to tackle cocaine abuse at his club at every level, including at the executive level, and, eight weeks after that, Mr Bartlett was unexpectedly pushed out of the AFL, despite having just recently been asked to serve as president for three more years. I will say that again.

The highly regarded President of the Melbourne Football Club, Glen Bartlett, was dumped by the AFL just eight weeks after a meeting with AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and AFL Chair Richard Goyder where he suggested mandatory drug testing for AFL executives. I’ve also obtained a signed statement from retired player Shaun Smith, the father of player Joel Smith, who is of course under investigation for alleged cocaine trafficking to his teammates. In his statement, Shaun maintains that his son had not been a cocaine user prior to joining the AFL and attributes his son’s situation to the AFL’s aiding and abetting of illegal drug use. To quote Shaun: If I had known that there was a massive drug problem at the AFL when my son was 14, I would have said ‘You’re playing baseball. You’re playing something else.’ To quote Shaun again: Something is not right when you get so many broken players. And Shaun is absolutely right.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 07: Joel Smith of the Demons in action during the 2023 AFL First Qualifying Final match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Melbourne Demons at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 07, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)
Joel Smith has been suspended and is facing length ban for testing positive to cocaine. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

The men and women of the AFL and the AFLW deserve so much better than the way they are currently being treated by AFL executives. Remember, when players enter the AFL, they are often barely out of their teens, and the culture they go into matters. But too many players are coming out broken, with addiction issues that had not been addressed and in fact had been enabled, because the players are currently being treated as corporate cannon fodder, being expected to play at all costs, regardless of their health. In other words, for some players Aussie Rules turns out to be a game that destroys their lives forever. That must stop, because those of us in the know are sick of hearing AFL executives talk about player welfare, when we now know they are actually sabotaging player welfare. Australian Rules football plays an incredibly important role in this nation’s culture.

To many footy fans, Aussie Rules is one of the most important things in their life. Indeed, many of us watch the games almost religiously. We take our children to Auskick clinics week after week. And, to be absolutely clear, I’m stoked that Tasmania is set to finally have an AFL team. But it’s exactly because of all that that we expect the AFL to act with integrity and not for us to be left standing and sitting here tonight wondering just how many young lives have been ruined by illegal drug use known to but not acted on by the AFL.

To be clear, the AFL is not a private company, and these matters are no ordinary drug scandal. No. The AFL is an entity regulated by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and receives hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect tax breaks, government grants and beneficial capital works. But the AFL is also big business, sustained in part by helping players secretly break the World Anti-Doping Agency code.

As a result, it is not an exaggeration to say that the off-the-books testing scheme I’ve described sees the AFL effectively involved in a multi-hundred-million-dollar fraud on governments and taxpayers. Aussie Rules football is far too important to our nation for it to be damaged by the actions of some in the AFL, which is why tonight I call for intervention at the highest level and ask the Prime Minister to personally intervene in this matter, to study the documents in my possession and to do everything he can to restore and protect the reputation of our beloved game, because right now the term ‘white line fever’ has taken on a different and sinister meaning at the AFL. To assist the House and the Prime Minister, I seek leave to table documents I’ve referred to tonight.

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