Forget the criticism, AFL’s drug testing not a soft hand

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Richmond's Ben Cousins lies injured on the ground during the AFL Round 21 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Hawthorn Hawks at the MCG.

In wake of Geelong’s Matthew Stokes’ alleged possession and trafficking of cocaine, the AFL has again been forced to defend its illicit drugs policy, which was introduced in 2005 with the assistance of the AFL Players’ Association.

Stokes is facing criminal charges and there is no proof, at this stage, that he has actually taken any illicit substance.

As a result, any criticism of the AFL policy on this basis is ill-informed.

All those negative characters out there in our world like to call the system soft, citing its “three-strike” policy, where players are only publicly named after they have tested positive to drugs three times.

Ben Cousins, it must be remembered, never tested positive. Part of the reason for this is that illicit drugs can take as little as 48 hours to disappear from your system.

But, now, hair samples, which can detect drugs three months later, can be used for testing purposes.

Today, there is a focus on “naming and shaming” players. But put yourself in their position.

How would you feel if a policy to test you and your fellow workers for illicit drugs was introduced at your work site? That’s right, you’d be outraged.

But you can stand in judgement of AFL players, condemning those who have made one mistake and tested positive.

Naming those who have transgressed after one positive test will tarnish their name forever – perhaps unfairly, too. What if the drug was slipped into their drink at a nightclub? That can happen to any of us.

The AFL’s policy allows for the prospect of rehabilitation and caters for medical confidentiality – a right that everyone deserves.

Medical records and results of drug tests are, simply, not for public consumption.

Medical confidentiality is maintained when necessary – for two positive tests – which then enables the player to receive the medical care they need.

Those who don’t know about illicit drug use will tell you the policy is soft; doctors will tell you it caters for the basic rights of players.

I know who’s opinion I’d listen to.

Drug dependency is a health issue; trafficking and possession are criminal matters. There is a clear difference. It is important we acknowledge this before slamming a policy that is as comprehensive as any.

Those wanting zero-tolerance are, basically, saying these players should be hung, drawn and quartered. That’s unfair.

We can’t condone the use of illicit drugs, either. But we must give people a chance.

The legal system gives plenty of people, who have committed much more serious offences, a second-chance.

Just because you are an AFL player, does that mean you are not afforded basic rights? Of course not.

Testing, of course, occurs out of competition under the AFL policy. Like speed cameras, testers can’t be at every club, every day. Some will slip through the net. That will always be the case in all areas of life.

The AFL will make a constant effort to improve its policy. But criticism about a “soft-hand” approach is off the mark and ill-informed.

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