One of the most telling moments in the super-hyped Lance Armstrong confession was when he came clean about his vehement assertion that he was the most tested athlete in cycling history - so how could he be guilty?

Cartoon: David McArthur

It had been his war cry against all the non-believers; but in his tell-all with Oprah Winfrey, he scoffed at the cycling authorities’ hopelessly inadequate testing regimen.

He was never, he claimed, tested out of competition, almost never randomly, and almost always on the day of competition.

So he and his posse had no trouble staying several steps ahead of cycling’s hapless authorities.

I wonder how many of our footballers are treating the AFL’s testing with similar contempt?

As the AFL Commission and 18 clubs meet in a unique drugs summit today, to address what many in the industry believe to be significant and growing illicit drug use, one thing is clear: the current system has run its course.

AFL chief Andrew Demetriou’s carefully orchestrated acknowledgment last week that we should expect more positive tests this year was the first step towards strategically repositioning the AFL.

Until Collingwood CEO Gary Pert’s impassioned plea about “volcanic behaviour” among some of the playing group, the sport’s governing body had seemed determined to keep its head firmly buried in the sand.

Proof positive is the flouting of the self-reporting loophole, which will no doubt be tightened after today. It was allegedly several Collingwood players who were among those guilty of exploiting that loophole.

By fronting up and admitting drugs use, players can avoid a strike against their names—and then brazenly continue to offend.

The Australian Drug Foundation has been a partner in developing what the AFL has always argued is a world-leading policy, the primary concern of which is the players’ health and welfare.

The Foundation’s John Rogerson is adamant that naming and shaming players is not the path ahead.

“World’s best research is clear that working with the players through education, treatment and counselling will have the best outcome,” he says.

He can, though, point to a shift in drug use - from cannabis and ecstasy to a significant increase in use of methamphetamines, amphetamines and cocaine - since the code was established.

“But viewing drug usage among footballers as isolated from the rest of the community is a mistake,” says Rogerson.

Battling risk-taking behaviour is part and parcel of any club’s responsibility in managing young players.

By their very nature they push the boundaries to achieve sporting success and many are prone to do the same in other areas of their lives - and drugs are no exception.

Many of the clubs have been pushing for an end to the three strikes policy because it keeps them out of the loop.

Many are strong advocates of a zero tolerance approach that sends a strong message that no drug usage will be tolerated.

I would argue that a policy that hits the middle ground needs to be found and that facts are always a good guide.

While the current testing regimen has not yielded a raft of positive tests, using about 1500 tests a year to try to cover more than 750 elite players is simply not enough.

Ensuring the policy is not a soft touch for players is critical and the turbulent off-season seems a good place to start homing in on likely offenders.

So, while the three strikes seems set to remain a cornerstone of the AFL’s approach, giving up ground on more assertive testing in the holiday period is essential.

Even if both the AFL and Players Association hold firm on three strikes, bringing club officials into the process earlier will help clubs identify problem behaviour that may be broader than one individual. And there’s no compelling argument to suggest that this would interfere with any continuing treatment and counselling.

Drug and alcohol specialists point to alcohol as the biggest driver of riskier experimentation. The AFL’s figures back that up: Demetriou acknowledges that 96 per cent of players who tested positive for drugs last year were drinking at the time.

Add to that the spread and availability of drugs within the past 12 months.

Risky behaviour by football players while they are out in nightclubs and bars around Melbourne is nothing new.

But AFL medical director Peter Harcourt argues that a range of drugs is now readily available just about everywhere and the problem is certainly not isolated to Melbourne’s nightlife.

The Players Association’s Ian Prendergast insists that a delicate balance has to be maintained between the players’ health interests and the need to catch those who are deliberately and recklessly breaking the rules.

Agreed - but let’s not protect those arrogant few who are sullying the image of the broader group and, by implication, the game.

Twitter: @bevvo14

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDT.

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30 comments

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    • TChong says:

      10:38am | 30/01/13

      Dont know about the players, but Collingwood fans could do with drugs- in the water.
      With fluridisation, us ‘Pies fans might retain more teeth.

    • Kerryn says:

      10:41am | 30/01/13

      Is this more a problem for Melbourne-based clubs?  Because most of the boys in NSW and QLD (bar one drunk-driving doit) seem to keep their noses clean (I am soooo totally not biased by the way raspberry).

      I have never been drunk (can’t drink) or done drugs in my life (I can’t even handle caffiene), and I’m pretty happy, have a fair few friends and have a lot of fun in life, can someone please explain the appeal of these substances?  Not trying to be preachy or anything, I just want to understand what people see in this stuff.

      Go LIONS!!!!!!!!

    • Trevor says:

      12:59pm | 30/01/13

      It’s cheaper than alcohol, and far more better on your body. I can’t really describe the feelings- its something you need to experience yourself. I’ll try though:
      -ecstacy: feelings of euphoria, energising and boundless love
      -LSD: all senses switched to MAX
      -pot: relaxing and makes you think very philosophically
      -cocaine: self-importance, lots of energy
      -speed: feelings of ivincibility

      That’s all the drugs I’ve tried, I would strongly recommend you try one or all of the above and don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Some of these substances will alter your perception (for the better) for good!

      Legalise these at least and a lot of these problems will fall away.

    • Kate says:

      01:53pm | 30/01/13

      The issue could be that players at the Melbourne (and WA if we consider the Ben Cousins example) clubs are more easily recognisable, due to footy being the dominant sport in Melbourne, therefore they attract more attention when out in the nightclubs - including from drug dealers, who are aware that these are young guys with a fairly large income, aka the ideal customer.
      Of course, I don’t doubt that it does occur in NSW and QLD among some players. Clubs would be naive to think they are unaffected by it.

    • PW says:

      02:08pm | 30/01/13

      @Trevor

      If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, the more we enjoy these beaut effects, the more we want them as part of our lives. Pretty soon we cannot function without them. You take eccies for their renowned affect on your libido, you soon enough find you can’t do the business without them. Likewise Cokeheads need the expensive white powder in ever increasing amounts to remain the powerhouses they imagine themselves to be.

      It stands to reason. There are no free rides. Everything has its price.

    • Modern primitive says:

      02:23pm | 30/01/13

      PW, just because alcohol and tobacco are legal doesn’t mean that everyone is an alcoholic smoker, does it?

      Legalising a few of those drugs wouldn’t lead to an addiction pandemic.

    • Kerryn says:

      02:23pm | 30/01/13

      @Trevor

      Seeing as my mental health is unstable at best, probably not a good idea to be putting mind-altering substances into my body (like I said, I can’t even handle caffiene, it sends me into depression - huzzah for anxiety!).

      And most of those feelings I can get simply by exercising or watching sports on TV.  Or thinking. I’m really bad for thinking…

    • anonymous says:

      02:53pm | 30/01/13

      @ Trevor,

      Everyone is different.

      For me:

      Ecstasy - no effect whatsoever
      LSD - wanted to kill myself to get rid of the way I felt
      Pot - paranoid and self-reflective, not in a good way
      cocaine - OK, but cranky about two hours later
      speed - see cocaine

    • Trevor says:

      03:33pm | 30/01/13

      Not to seem patronising Kerryn, but some very interesting results are being releasing into the therapeutic effects that cannabis and MDMA especially are having on those who have mental health conditions. It may eventuate that cannabis actually PREVENTS schitzophrenia rather than causes it as is the common mixconception. LSD has been found to be very effective in curing alcoholism and other similar maladies.

      And yeah, I used to think that. Until I tried my first eccie or trip. Wow. Trust me, nothing comes close. But as PW notes, you need to recognise the fact and not come to rely on it. Don’t fall for the trap of chasing the dragon!

    • Modern Primitive says:

      04:01pm | 30/01/13

      @ Trevor, there’s still a possible link between Cannabis bringing out latent schizophrenia in teenage boys, but to me, that’s an argument to legalise and put in age controls so that consumption in this demographic is restricted, ala alcohol and cigarettes.

      Another thing on the schizophrenic thing, evidence atm points to schizophrenics self medicating with cannabis, rather than the cannabis being the cause of schizophrenia in the first place. Even if cannabis caused schizophrenia, doctors estimate they’d have to stop 5000 people trying cannabis to prevent one case of schizophrenia.

      Kerryn, drugs obviously aren’t for everyone, but they’re a hell of a lot of fun. If they weren’t fun people wouldn’t do them.  And no, you can’t get the same effect just by excercising.

    • AdamC says:

      10:51am | 30/01/13

      Historically, it has always struck me that the objective of the AFL’s drug policy was basically to be seen to be doing something. The ‘three strikes’ rule made it pretty clear that actually catching and penalising users - with the associated publicity - was not regarded as in the AFL’s interests. (Rumours abounded of officials simply not testing high-profile players again after a positive result.)

      If that has changed, the AFL needs to really work out what its objectives are. Le’s not forget, we are not talking about performance enhancing drugs here, so there is some flexibility. In my view, responses need to be tailored to the offending player. If they have become dependent on drugs, they should be compelled to enter a treatment program to get clean. In these circumstances, it would be better to keep things on the down low. (Drug addicts rarely want for shame.)

      However, where use is merely recreational, a more punitive approach is needed. It is not too much to ask young men, who are paid like corporate executives to play a ballgame, to refrain from indulging in illegal substances.

      Of course, working out who the addicted users are and who are simply breaking the rules will require more than just testing. Therefore, I agree that clubs and other players should be involved in the system.

    • Ted says:

      10:57am | 30/01/13

      so how could he she guilty?
      Agreed…..When Julia told us “there will be no carbon tax under the government” and we have one when we give her a mandate to run the country under the circumstances she decided how to run it.

      World’s best research is clear that working with the people through education by teaching that a democracy is where a nation is ruled by its people, rather than one person who gets into power using lies and then doesn’t listen to public opinion will have the best outcome in everything.

      When the core structure of any organisation is already rotten from the beginning the rest follow.

    • Troll-away says:

      11:19am | 30/01/13

      Dammit, how do you keep finding new ways to escape from under your bridge!?

      Based on your grammar and punctuation though, perhaps this time you took a nasty bump on the head…?

    • Stan says:

      12:48pm | 30/01/13

      Did you forget that the spin doctors have created a ban on subject like teaching grammar in our schools for more than two decades and here is the result.

      Dammit where were you to stop it ?

      Anyway did you get the message ?

    • Brent says:

      11:06am | 30/01/13

      You do realise there is a difference between recreational drugs and PED’s. Testing for recreational drugs is a cultural issue not a sporting one. Armstrong’s was an issue to do with cheating a sporting sense and they should be tested a hell of alot for that. Testing for Rec drugs is really only an issue depending on your social viewpoint so comparing the two is pretty misguided on your part

    • Kev says:

      11:17am | 30/01/13

      Punitive measures might appease certain sections of the media and public who love to look for any excuse to attack sportsmen as out of control overpaid louts but I doubt it will work. I would suggest a system where players who are caught are punished with minimum half season suspensions unless they and a doctor or psychiatrist can prove that this player has a demonstrated history of drug addiction in which case rehab is more appropriate rather than punishment. It will scare off those who like to experiment and look after those who have a genuine substance abuse problem because the reality is that it is not a black and white issue as some would like to think.

    • Meh says:

      11:31am | 30/01/13

      I don’t know why they test for recreational drugs anyway. Recreational drugs would have to be a detriment to your performance so who cares. More Collingwood players out of condition the better !!

    • Modern primitive says:

      11:32am | 30/01/13

      Or we could, you know, look at legalising a few drugs.

    • Trevor says:

      01:07pm | 30/01/13

      Amen. I would go for ‘most’ though. No need to legalise the likes of Meth, PCP and bath salts. The jury is prety much in, and the consensus is that probibition causes way more problems for society and the individual than the drugs themselves.

    • Modern Primitive says:

      01:41pm | 30/01/13

      I think the case has been made well enough for drugs like cannabis and MDMA, both are less harmfull to the user and less harmfull to society than either Tobacco and Alcohol. Let’s start with those and see how we go.

      Who knows, there may even be a reduction in binge drinking and alcohol related violence. Wouldn’t that be something?

    • Ando says:

      11:43am | 30/01/13

      Footballers are on less drugs than the rest of 18 - 30 year olds. They should be congratulated.
      I preferred the old days when I didn’t know what they got up to in their spare time. Either way I dont care.

    • Fiddler says:

      01:08pm | 30/01/13

      Correct, they are only setting a bad example when the media follow them around and broadcast what they do. Otherwise hold them to the same standards as the rest of us. Leave them alone on their days off and only report when they commit criminal offences.

      Seriously who cares what they get up to?

    • the moor says:

      01:14pm | 30/01/13

      The AFL’s drug policy always was a farce and Demetrio’s defence of it has always been disingenuous.  Having a policy that is more about preventing bad PR than it is about genuinely dealing with the problem is proof of that.

    • stephen says:

      05:53pm | 30/01/13

      Agreed ... and there’s gotta be more drugs in Carlton players at any one time than in Lenin.

      Demetriou overproduces his job.
      He does nothing but excuse concerns that the better sports-journalists talk about.
      He PR’s his way around drugs, he concocts subtle but regular rule changes each year - this gives the impression that the game would suffer an unfairness if nothing was fixed, (this absolves the prospect of drugtaking, too, because another ‘free-radical’ is taken care of, and the CEO has his eye right on the ball) - and the draft is carefully managed so that no one team would appear to have an unfair advantage ... if a captain or coach is unhappy with a player, then he should be trained better in that team, or fired. There has to be a hundred young players who are waiting in the VFL for their big chance, many of whom will not get one because of the AFL’s insistence on swapping inferior players from one squad to another.
      Complete waste of time.

    • Phillb says:

      01:49pm | 30/01/13

      If the clubs were serious about it they would run their own internal drug testing.
      The current policy by the AFL is worthless and is designed to do nothing more then protect the sports image.

    • Kate says:

      01:58pm | 30/01/13

      It’s an issue with this age group in general, not just AFL players. Only thing is, Simon the banker and Wazza the tradie don’t have people ringing the Herald Sun when they’re spotted off their nut at Seven nightclub at four in the morning. Drug education and prevention should take place on a broader scale.
      I do agree with Eddie McGuire that it was a low act to leak the news that Collingwood players had been self-reporting to avoid detection. If you want to draw attention to the issue, fine, but naming specific clubs adds nothing to the discussion. (No, I am not a Collingwood supporter.)

    • KJ says:

      04:00pm | 30/01/13

      I wonder whgat the results would be if employees in the media industry were drug tested

    • Modern primitive says:

      05:22pm | 30/01/13

      The police union is against the testing of it’s members.

      Funny how that works isn’t it?

    • stephen says:

      05:00pm | 30/01/13

      Who started this 3 strikes rubbish anyway ... wasn’t it Bill Clinton, and to do with the crime spree in New York City ?
      Well it won’t work in sport because what it does, is give a prospective culprit a goal, a boundary from which he/she shan’t supercede i.e.’ 2 strikes, and I’ve got one more left’ ; the idea should be that any sportsperson caught with illegal drugs in their body, at the time during the performance of that sport, should be banned for life from that sport.
      If I want to watch drug cheats perform, I’ll go to a rock concert.
      Otherwise, the level playing field is that no-one takes drugs.
      No ifs, buts or maybes.

    • marley says:

      06:31pm | 30/01/13

      @Stephen - the “three strikes” principle had nothing to do with Clinton.  It was state law, enacted in California and, I think, Washington, 15 or 20 years ago, and it referred only to felons facing a third criminal conviction. 

      The problem with this particular AFL rule is that it conflates taking recreational drugs with taking performance-enhancing drugs.  I’m not sure that the former is any business of the AFL at all, at least out of season.  I’d not have thought that a player chilling out with a bong is much of a drug cheat in sporting terms. 

      Players who take performance-enhancing drugs are another matter entirely, in or out of season, and the players out to be tested year round.  As for cocaine, I understand it can be performance enhancing in some circumstances, so it ought to be a no-no, at least on game day.

 

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