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

Luke D'Anello Roar Pro

By Luke D'Anello, Luke D'Anello is a Roar Pro

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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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    The Crowd Says (53)

    • February 13th 2010 @ 6:36am
      Mr Real Australian it's called Football Man formerly known as Kurt said | February 13th 2010 @ 6:36am | ! Report

      Luke – good article, but I think you missed the two key points ignored (either through willful dishonesty or ignorance) by those who criticise the AFL’s illicit drug policy: Firstly, this is a testing regime entered into voluntarily by the players OVER AND ABOVE the normal WADA testing requirements that all professional athletes are subject to. Secondly, the AFL is one of only two major sporting bodies in Australia (the NRL being the other) that routinely conduct non match-day testing for illicit drugs. So to paraphrase the AFL when the last federal government came knocking to criticise their approach: “Thanks for your interest in our drug testing policies. Feel free to come back to us when you have spoken to the other 200 or so Australian sporting bodies (incl. the ARU and FFA) that have no such testing in place. Oh, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out”.

      • Roar Guru

        February 13th 2010 @ 8:38am
        Australian Football said | February 13th 2010 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        Not a ball kicked in anger—pardon me—not a ball punched in anger and we have our first lead in story of illicit drugs trafficking in AFL—well done lads.

      • February 13th 2010 @ 8:40am
        Hansie said | February 13th 2010 @ 8:40am | ! Report

        Agreed. The AFL illicit drugs policy is in fact tougher and more onerous than the policies of other sports in Australia.

        • Roar Guru

          February 13th 2010 @ 3:00pm
          Redb said | February 13th 2010 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

          reality is tough for some.

          • February 13th 2010 @ 4:44pm
            Marcel said | February 13th 2010 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

            Wow…you guys really do live in a world of your own dont you.

            3 strikes is just a joke, no matter how you want to spin it.

            Try chatting this one through with Wendell Sailor, who would never have been named if he was an AFL player.

            • February 13th 2010 @ 5:29pm
              tommy said | February 13th 2010 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

              sailor got done by the WADA testing. the same testing applies to AFL players as well as the AFL testing regime.

            • February 14th 2010 @ 8:42pm
              Michael C said | February 14th 2010 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

              4 years ago Cameron (no idea) Williams on the TOday show stated the same Marcel,
              a year later Mark (no idea) Beretta did likewise,

              and you’ve just illustrated that that same ignorance still exists – as Tommy said, the AFL IS WADA compliant – – and as such, Wendall Sailor – if testing positive to WADA testing would recieve the exact same penalties.

              (harshly or otherwise – but, that’s another story).

              The difference is – in the AFL that Sailor MAY have been detected earlier, and put on (as the police do to the general public) a ‘diversion’ program and Sailor may have worked through whatever silliness or vulnerability or low point saw him using such substances – – he could’ve moved on and the general public need never know.

              However – Govt’s with anti Drug election platforms much, much prefer the odd publicly outed fellow to be made a public scapegoat to in some way make up for Govt ineffectiveness!!

              • Roar Guru

                February 14th 2010 @ 8:55pm
                Dogs Of War said | February 14th 2010 @ 8:55pm | ! Report

                So if an AFL player tested positive to cocaine via the WADA testing, would they be banned from playing like Wendell or Andrew Walker, or subject to the AFL’s 3 strikes policy (assuming the WADA testing is administered by the AFL)?

                How many players have had 2 strikes? How long before those strikes are wiped from your record?

              • February 14th 2010 @ 9:20pm
                Michael C said | February 14th 2010 @ 9:20pm | ! Report

                Yes –

                the AFL has no over riding capacity over the WADA testing/penalty regime.

                What did you think??

                It’s FIFA that had the balls to stand up to WADA and adopt a ‘limited’ WADA compliance based on the ability to enact a case by case penalty (which is what the AFL wanted but were forced away from via ignorant public – – govt – – pressure in Australia that was ignorant that FIFA was doing the same thing!!).

                Now DOW – in being a NRL man and asking a question like “How many..2 strikes”, you do realise, that the NRL does NOT release ANY information about their testing program or strikes or anything,

                so, how lucky are you that the AFL does release the stats that Dorevitch forward to the AFL :


                Year – Total Test numbers – Total Failed Tests – 2nd Failed Tests – Failed tests %
                2005 – 472 – 19 – 3 – 4.03%
                2006 – 486 – 9 – 0 – 1.85%
                2007 – 1152 – 14 – 3 – 1.2%
                2008 – 1220 – 12 – 2 – 0.98%

                Over this time, 8 2nd strikes occurred, I know that as of 2007 it was reported that of the 6 2nd strike occurances that 3 of those players had diagnosed mental illness/conditions.

                btw – FYI

                Type – 2005 – 2006 – 2007 – 2008
                Cannabinoids – 6 – 0 – 4 – 3
                Stimulants – 12 – 8 – 10 – 8
                Mixed – 1 – 1 – 0 – 1

                With the most recent announcements of ramping up and agreement to a trial (non punitive) hair testing etc – there’s a 4 year limit on the strikes – – I’m not too sure about how wise or correct to have it that that is, but, it’s in there.

          • February 13th 2010 @ 10:21pm
            Mr Real Australian it's called Football Man formerly known as Kurt said | February 13th 2010 @ 10:21pm | ! Report

            No point engaging with these guys on this issue – like I said, it’s either a case of profound ignorance or deliberate dishonesty, particularly when people bring up the Wendell Sailor example.

        • February 13th 2010 @ 4:53pm
          Marcel said | February 13th 2010 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

          Really Hansie

          …In what other sport are you not considered a cheat until you have been caught cheating 3 times

          • February 13th 2010 @ 8:30pm
            Tom said | February 13th 2010 @ 8:30pm | ! Report

            Taking recreational drugs is not cheating, Marcel.

            Bear in mind these are not performance enhancing substances.

          • February 14th 2010 @ 4:13pm
            Hansie said | February 14th 2010 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

            Most other sports don’t have out of competition testing for illicit drugs.

            • February 14th 2010 @ 6:45pm
              Marcel said | February 14th 2010 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

              Your kidding right?

              • February 14th 2010 @ 7:57pm
                Hansie said | February 14th 2010 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

                No. The AFL illicit drugs policy is over and above what WADA requires.

              • Roar Guru

                February 14th 2010 @ 8:08pm
                Dogs Of War said | February 14th 2010 @ 8:08pm | ! Report

                But it’s not the same as getting tested by WADA who would ban you from playing for at least a year, like Wendell Sailor & Andrew Walker were after testing positive to drugs.

                So I don’t see how it’s over and above WADA testing, unless your just inferring that the AFL does some extra testing not required by any WADA policy.

              • February 14th 2010 @ 8:48pm
                Michael C said | February 14th 2010 @ 8:48pm | ! Report

                Firstly – WADA has a focus of PED’s – – and a very, very narrow focus on illicit drugs. So, there’s a lot of stuff they DON’T test for that the AFL testing DOES test for.

                There’s really not much overlap at all.

                WADA testing is more focussed on the ‘top 3’ – – such as 1/2/3 in a race – or, the top 3 B&F players from the previous season,

                and for all the WADA testing – it never detected Ben Cousins or Andrew Johns – – – so, it doesn’t say much for a reliance on WADA testing to illustrate the cleanliness or otherwise of a code.

                AFL testing is NOT a punitive program. Plain and simple. 3 strikes is NOT about dealing out punishments (which is why – to satisfy Govt, the attached ‘punishments’ that where applied are suspended and only activated upon a 3rd strike…..a bit of nonsense really!!!).

                If people can’t get their head around the difference – – the PED’s ARE cheating, and WADA is for sports cheats.
                Illicit drugs are NOT for cheating – and a different focus is applied – – i.e. treating it as a health issue.

                Seems to me like a reasonably comprehensive program – – a duty of care applied in a sense to help look after the best interests of the player group.

    • February 13th 2010 @ 9:19pm
      jimbo said | February 13th 2010 @ 9:19pm | ! Report

      the iron fist of the AFL leaks like a sieve.

      More bad news on Matthew Stokes:

      If you believed Stoke’s ridiculous lies you’d believe anything.

      Cousins never tested positive because he was never tested by the AFL. Cousins’ father broke down in tears in an interview when he talked about how drugs had ruined his son’s life.

      But you are an AFL journalist, I wouldn’t expect any more of you than to just defend the good reputation of AFL players and the AFL commission.

      • February 14th 2010 @ 8:52pm
        Michael C said | February 14th 2010 @ 8:52pm | ! Report

        Ben Cousins WAS target tested by WADA testing – WADA policy is to target the top 3 place getters from the previous seasons B&Fs.

        WADA alone is next to useless on this topic.

        You either do something additional or you do nothing.

        Soccer in Australia what in particular Jimbo??

    • February 13th 2010 @ 9:27pm
      jimbo said | February 13th 2010 @ 9:27pm | ! Report

    • February 13th 2010 @ 9:29pm
      jimbo said | February 13th 2010 @ 9:29pm | ! Report

      • February 14th 2010 @ 9:04pm
        Michael C said | February 14th 2010 @ 9:04pm | ! Report

        and, point is Jimbo?? when you know this stuff is going on – – but, because there’s no physical evidence, even the police can’t act upon it –

        what’s the AFL to do??

        what they’ve done……as compared to other codes who would rather do nothing and rely solely on WADA for ALL their drug testing.

        AFL has BOTH WADA testing,


        an illicit testing program that since 2006 has increased from less than 500 tests annually to 1500 or more (hmmm, are they counting Ben Cousins I think 3 weekly tests?)

        Still not sure what your point is Jimbo – – showing us stuff that happened BEFORE the AFL introduced their policy only illustrates the NEED for the policy……..not that it’s not working or soft.

        so, what IS your point??

    • February 13th 2010 @ 9:29pm
      jimbo said | February 13th 2010 @ 9:29pm | ! Report

      • Roar Guru

        February 14th 2010 @ 11:19am
        Australian Football said | February 14th 2010 @ 11:19am | ! Report

        of course Kurt would have us believe that these reports are based on profound ignorance 😀


      • February 14th 2010 @ 3:04pm
        Beast-A-Tron said | February 14th 2010 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

        Jimbo it would be great if you could respond to my post in your article “AFL’s illegal drugs policy not working”.

        This isn’t the first time you have authored an erroneous article and refused to respond to my criticisms.

        • February 14th 2010 @ 3:49pm
          Beast-A-Tron said | February 14th 2010 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

          Why was the last line of my post edited out moderator? Bizarre…

    • Roar Guru

      February 15th 2010 @ 9:53am
      Michael C said | February 15th 2010 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Jimbo –

      could you please return to the thread and make some comment about what point you were trying to illustrate.

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