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Ben Cousins (File photo/AFANA)

Shortly after Round Two concluded, Andrew Wilke (Australian Member of Parliament, Independent) dropped a bombshell statement regarding Australian rules players and clubs. The allegations, denied by the league, doctors, and the AFL Players Association (AFLPA), state that club doctors would test players midweek. If any player tested positive for an illicit substance, that player was instructed to fake an injury to be ruled out of the upcoming game to avoid match day testing and subsequent ramifications. The allegations also claim that the midweek tests were "off the books". The tests allegedly took place at a clinic away from the clubs with former AFL chief medical officer Peter Harcourt helping to facilitate the tests. Wilkie said the information was given to him by Melbourne Demons president Glen Bartlett, club doctor Zeeshan Arain, and Shaun Smith, the father of a player accused of drug trafficking. (Ed. note: we have been critical in our editorial view on this matter for many years, as far back as the Essendon scandal of a decade ago: AFL Drug Policy, Essendon, and Predictable Outcomes)

In responding to Wilkie's comments, the AFL said it was "unapologetic" about doctors taking steps to prevent players from participating in training or competition if they tested positive to drugs. An AFL statement said in part, "... Because having illicit substances in your system on match-day may be deemed performance-enhancing and a breach of the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code (depending on the substance involved)," The statement. also made it clear that player monitoring was highly confidential. It did not address the allegation of players being told to fake injuries. Melbourne Coach Simon Goodwin told reporters on Wednesday he had no "line of sight" over the AFL's drug testing and said the club would be seeking more information, "I think every club is interested now to find out more information.:"

The The AFL announced last month the Illicit Drugs Policy (IDP) was under review with updates expected later in the year. The AFLPA said in a statement it supported the AFL's position and was committed to reviewing the "The Illicit Drugs Policy is ... a medical model and is focused on identifying, educating, and rehabilitating."

A number of players have been suspended for cocaine use or possession, including two Sydney AFLW players being caught by police. Melbourne's Joel Smith, whose father Shaun was cited in the allegations against the AFL, has been provisionally suspended since October following a positive test for cocaine after a match last season. The most high-profile case was former West Coast Eagle player Ben Cousins, whose meth addiction has been well-documented (see Ben Cousins stories). Another case was in the late 1990's, when Richmond's Justin Charles admitted to using steroids to recover from a hip injury.
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AFL CEO Andrew Dillion said the welfare of players was the main consideration for the league, "The private medical information of the players is private medical information ... and it’s that player’s decision to disclose or not.” Dillon said the tests Wilkie was referring to related to a “small handful of the 1,300 athletes” involved in the AFL and AFLW. Dillon denied there was a drug problem, saying it involved a very small handful of players each year. He did concede that doctors would occasionally keep players off the field if they suspected they had used drugs, "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." Dillon also requested that Wilke pass along the documentation he has to Sports Integrity Australia (SIA).

The AFL statement continued that player welfare and education around drug use is a key element of the league's illicit drugs policy, and that it is "imperative that no doctor or club official should ever allow or encourage a player to take the field knowing they have recently taken an illicit substance that may be harmful to their health and/or may be deemed performance-enhancing ... should a player test positive for an illicit drug, then a doctor can "take steps to prevent a player from taking part in either training and/or an AFL match."

As well as being a signatory to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code via the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code, the AFL IDP, in place since 2005, is claimed to have at the core of the policy, a commitment to player well-being and welfare ... The IDP... specifically deals with the use of illicit substances out of competition and is focused on player health and well-being. The policy seeks to reduce substance use and drug-related harms for AFL players and aims to inform and rehabilitate players through education and intervention. "It exists alongside and in addition to the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code ... Urine tests conducted by doctors to determine if a player has used illicit substances are part of the AFL's Illicit Drug Policy medical model and have been for some time. Doctors may use those urine tests to obtain an immediate result to determine whether any illicit substance remains in a player's system. This is normally conducted at the club or in the doctors consulting rooms ... We support the WADA code ... The AFL observes that AFL players are not immune to the societal issues faced by young people with respect to illicit substances ... "..

The AFL Doctors Association also issued a statement saying the IDP was based on a medical model to provide supportive care for players and that reports remain confidential It stated that the health and wellbeing of the players was the prime responsibility of club doctors. It also stated that the allegations were "... disappointing, and represent a distortion of a process aimed at supporting player welfare." It concluded by saying the Association supports the IDP to provide education and treatment for the players and that any substance use is managed with "... discretion and in accordance with medical ethics, the AFL's guidelines, and WADA's code."

Sources: reuters.com, france24.com, Lisa Kyle, AFLPA Media Release, zerohangerzerohanger.com, Jay Allen, AFL Media Release

Article last changed on Sunday, March 31, 2024 - 3:46 PM EDT


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