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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has told the AFL it must abandon its current drug policy. The agency believes the code "lacks transparency" and could take football down the same path as American baseball and its recent drug scandal.

WADA executive general David Howman said the League could face ridicule from within and without Australia if it does not overhaul the current out of competition testing and abandon its "three strikes" policy.

Howman flew from WADA headquarters in Montreal to Sydney to meet with government and sports officials while the AFL met with two government ministers on Friday in Melbourne. Sports Minister George Brandis and Ageing Minister Christopher Pyne outlined Government concerns and also demanded a policy change.

Pyne echoed Treasurer Peter Costello's criticism that the AFL's current policy was too soft on players who used illegal drugs and that not naming a player until a third positive test was akin to acceptance of illegal drug use. WADA and the federal government believe a player caught just once should face the law and disciplinary action from the League.

The AFL is also facing criticism from within its own ranks, with a number of club officials voicing their concerns. Geelong president Frank Costa believes club officials should be notified after a second positive test so the player can be counseled much sooner. Hawk president Jeff Kennett and Melbourne chairman Paul Gardiner want the three-strikes policy abandoned while Bulldog Brett Montgomery

All of this has again put the AFL on the defensive with Andrew Demetriou issuing a statement last week in which he reiterated the reasoning behind the league's policy. In part he said, ""The AFL shares a zero tolerance view......We have both the WADA match day testing.....and also a secondary system....based on the model for the federal government's own National Drug Diversion Initiative.....".

Demetriou again pointed out that the league set up its current policy on the advice of the Victoria Police Drug and Alcohol Strategy Unit which has a program to divert drug users into counseling and rehabilitation programs rather than the legal system. He further stated that, "...We have zero tolerance.....and we are doing what the police and drug prevention experts say is the most effective manner of breaking the cycle and stopping illicit drug use."

Demetriou also said that the league had worked with 25 players who had tested positive and that only three had returned two positive tests. Under WADA rules, any player failing the test on match day will face an automatic two year ban.

The federal government, through the ministers, demanded five changes. Those are:

Expand out-of-competition testing to 365 days
Extend definition of in-competition testing
Sanctions for every breach, including fines and suspension
Moratorium for players to come forward
More education and rehabilitation

The League rejected those demands and said no change would be considered until the government met with representatives from other sports.

The players and AFLPA, the players' association,  have also rejected the Howard Government's push for a much tougher code, with Brendon Gale expressing some regret that they ever agreed to the league's "three strikes" policy for those who test positive out of competition. Gale said, under the current atmosphere, he was beginning to wonder if the voluntary out-of-competition testing and three strikes policy agreed upon by the players, was a good idea. The AFLPA has already said no change would be made unless jointly agreed upon by themselves and the AFL.

It is the three strikes policy which is the main sticking point, but the league is still against "naming and shaming" a player until a third breach.

The players' association executive, which includes player representatives from every club, will meet later this month. Gale would not speculate on the possibility of players striking over the issue, but said it was an issue which they felt very strongly about. Richmond defender and President of the players' association, Joel Bowden, said the Government's proposals went against all the research and information they had been.

The AFL's policy was last week endorsed by the Director of addiction medicine at St Vincent's Hospital, Professor Jon Currie, and Sports Medicine Australia. Currie said the AFL had shown a zero tolerance for drug use with its two-tiered testing regimen. Sports Medicine Australia national president Dr Bruce Mitchell said that the league should be commended for its testing policy, which also seeks to help users get off drugs.

Australian Greens spokesman Dr Richard di Natale, who is also an international drug treatment specialist and former Victorian Football Association footballer, commended the AFL and AFLPA, condemning the idea of naming players who tested positive a first time, saying such a policy would send the wrong message.

In related news, AFL medical officers Harry Unglik and Peter Harcourt will attend board meetings of all 16 clubs next month with a presentation similar to the one delivered to the players. The presentation outlines the dangers of drugs and how the AFL's testing regimen works. While the presentation was made recently at a meeting of club CEOs, some felt their own boards were not properly informed and requested the medical officers to attend their board meetings.

Source: Herald Sun & Melbourne Age

Article last changed on Wednesday, May 30, 2007 - 3:55 PM EDT

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