Like any AFL nut in desperate need of a new hobby this off-season, I eagerly awaited the release of the 2019 fixture.
The fraught issue of mental health will be a focus as the AFL reviews its controversial illicit drugs policy.
The league has confirmed it is reviewing the code, just over three years after it was changed from a three-strikes to a two-strikes policy.
One of the AFL’s thorniest issues is back in the spotlight, with prominent club presidents Jeff Kennett and Peter Gordon renewing their criticism of the policy.
Former player Wayne Schwass, a prominent mental health spokesman in the game, also has expressed his concerns about a perceived loophole in the policy.
The current policy expires next year and the league said in a statement it was working with the players association to ensure the code’s objectives, including player welfare and accountability, are met.
“The ongoing review will include consultation with clubs, players and medical professionals,” an AFL spokesman said
Schwass has no doubt that some players have used mental health issues as an excuse to avoid sanction under the illicit drugs code.
“We’d be naive to believe there wouldn’t be a percentage of players across the competition that have made those decisions – they’ve taken substances and they’ve used mental health as an issue,” Schwass told SEN.
“I think the intention of the current illicit drug policy is to help those that have legitimate drug issues and drug problems and also legitimate mental health conditions.
“I think that the system and the way it’s currently being implemented and executed does leave gaps in the system for players to be able to exploit this.”
Schwass also stressed he was unaware of any specific players who had used mental health as an out clause.
“But if you’ve got Peter Gordon, Jeff Kennett and Eddie McGuire saying that this is an issue, we have to listen to what they’re saying,” Schwass said.
The league is frustrated by the focus on the mental health issue, with officials adamant that it is not a simple rubber stamp for a player trying to exploit the system.
While Hawthorn’s Kennett and the Western Bulldogs’ Gordon have been strident in their criticism of the three-strikes policy – the Hawthorn president told 3AW on Thursday that the code is “pointless” – McGuire was more measured.
“The policy is helping more people than would be the situation if there wasn’t voluntary testing by the players,” the Collingwood president told the Herald Sun.
“But if we can get to a position where we are able to look after this inside the club, that would be the best of all positions, but I think that would be an evolutionary position.”
Schwass said the clubs have a point about wanting more involvement in the policy.
But any changes that the AFL might decide to make to the policy must have the players’ agreement.
The players have voluntarily agreed to the policy, which started in 2005 and is separate to the league’s standard anti-doping code.
No player has been suspended since the policy changed from three strikes to two.
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