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'Strongest drugs code in sport': AFL set to revamp three-strikes policy amid new 'secret immunity' bombshell

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28th March, 2024
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The AFL secret drugs test scandal has been rocked with further shocking allegations claiming up to 100 players have been given ‘secret immunity’ from the league’s three-strikes illicit drugs policy.

Federal MP Andrew Wilkie revealed the AFL and club doctors’ practice of having players who registered a positive test in the days before matches fake an injury to be withdrawn from the team and avoid risking being caught by Sports Integrity Australia.

The latest series of allegations have seen anonymous club medical insiders tell the Herald Sun that players identified as cocaine users in a so-called ‘medical model’, to prevent them from being hit with strikes under AFL policy.

Normally, a player registering a positive drugs test outside match day for the first time would be fined $5000 and undergo mandatory counselling, while a second strike would see them name and receive a four-match suspension. A third strike would result in a 12-match ban.

League CEO Andrew Dillon admitted to the strategy being implemented across the league on Wednesday, but claimed it was ‘a very small handful of players’ circumventing the policy.

However, an insider told the Herald Sun that ‘even the cleanest clubs would have about five players on this so-called rehabilitation program.

“Some would have far more. Across 18 clubs we are talking maybe 100 players,” the insider said.


The scandal is set to bring about significant changes to the three-strikes policy, which has come in for a barrage of criticism over the years for being too lenient to players testing positive.

Former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire said on Nine’s Footy Classified its replacement would be a ‘punitive code’.

“Enough is enough,” he said.

“They [the AFL] are going to bring in a punitive code… I believe that this will be done by June this year, and I think it’ll come in next year.

“They’ll have to get everybody signed off on it, but there’s far less sense of humour about looking after the players.

“They’ll still have what was WADA, so Sports Integrity Australia, doing the match-day testing for everything, including performance-enhancing… this will actually be the strongest drug code, probably, in sport.”


Under the new code, according to McGuire, the league will recommend a six-match suspension for a first drugs offence in an attempt to ‘normalise’ the strictness of the policy.

“We’re nominating six weeks – it might be four weeks,” he said.

“They’re going to normalise it, if you like – ‘Lloyd out – hamstring, Joe Blow out – drugs.”

McGuire also dismissed suggestions such a revelation could impact named players’ mental health, saying it was time to put ‘grown-up pants on’.

“Drugs are a problem, mental health issues are a problem. They’re not stigmas anymore, you can work through it.”

McGuire cited the risk of players being ‘blackmailed’ under the current policy, noting players have only received suspensions from the AFL for illicit drug use if caught doing it, as was the case with former Collingwood and now Hawthorn forward Jack Ginnivan and Western Bulldogs midfielder Bailey Smith.

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“You get rubbed out for four weeks if somebody takes a photo of you, but you get nothing if you self-report,” he said.

“The opportunity to blackmail a player if you take a photo of them over the summer… you are dealing with organised crime.

“It’s far better for a player to get six weeks and have to face mum and dad that they’ve taken drugs.”

‘Less than a handful’: AFLPA boss defends secret drugs test policy, rubbishes high number claims

Only an “incredibly small number” of AFL players have been protected by secret drug tests in the past decade, the head of the AFL Players Association says.

AFLPA chief executive Paul Marsh says speculation 100 players have been granted some immunity by club doctors over drug test results is guesswork.


Marsh stressed only the AFL would know the true figures but in his experience the number of players involved in such cases was minute.

“It feels like the commentary around this is that it’s happening every week,” Marsh told SEN Radio on Thursday.

“In my time with the AFLPA, there would be less than a handful of these examples.

“And what would happen here, typically, is the club … would come to us and say, ‘Is it OK for us to do a test of this player because we’re concerned about him turning up (positive) on game day?’

“And our view is, they’re looking after the wellbeing of the player. That makes sense.

“I couldn’t definitively say that happens on every occasion but it certainly has.

“I’ve been doing this job for nearly 10 years and there would be less than a handful of players that this has been an example for.


“(An) incredibly small number.

“Nowhere near the level as perhaps … this story is suggesting.”

AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon said on Wednesday the league was “unapologetic” about giving club doctors powers to withdraw players from games if they were in danger of testing positive on match day.

Sport Integrity Australia is investigating the claims about secretive illicit-drug tests, which were initially raised under parliamentary privilege by federal MP Andrew Wilkie.

Under the testing regime, doctors are not compelled to inform their club’s hierarchy of any positive test for illicit drugs.

Marsh said confidentiality was needed to protect players from backlash from clubs that have threatened to use such information in contract talks.

“We do not discourage the players from discussing this with their coaches, their CEOs, their presidents, if they want to,” he said.


“The players’ fear is that it will be used against them in contracting or whatever … and clubs are freely admitting that they would.”

Carlton coach Michael Voss said he was “disappointed” at the drugs furore.

“Obviously you have club-land commentary and then you have industry-wide and how we’ve perceived that,” Voss told reporters on Thursday.

“I sit well and truly in the same basket: we’re all really surprised and somewhat disappointed with where it currently lies.

“Now it’s up to the AFL and the AFLPA to review what that looks like and what the best steps are moving forward for us … it has been a little surprising how it’s all unfolded.”

Voss said he had never considered that some players could have used the so-called medical model to fake an injury so they couldn’t play and subjected to a possible SIA test on game day. 

“In terms of any doubt on player availability, I have never had that,” he said.