It is about time that the AFL amended its illicit drugs policy.
Sportzfan Radio has been calling for this for a considerable period of time. This week Melbourne Football Club coach, Paul Roos and Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley have added their voices to this call. Buckley went as far as to say ‘if it’s a battle, we’re not winning it’ and wanted players to be held accountable for their behaviour.
The drugs policy indicates that the AFL does not condone the use of illicit substances and aims to identify AFL players who have substance abuse issues and place the necessary support around them to protect their health and wellbeing with a focus on education of the player. The policy includes a ‘three strikes’ component that means a player’s identity does not become public knowledge until he has been detected three times with illicit substances in his body.
First off let’s look at the word ‘illicit’. It means ‘forbidden by law, rules or customs’. In other words the policy can be described as the AFL’s illegal drug policy.
Interestingly, the AFL Player Code of Conduct that is incorporated into the standard AFL playing contract, is intended to ‘educate players on the importance of maintaining appropriate standards….’ and requires them to conduct themselves in a manner so as not to bring the game of Australian Rules into disrepute. The Code also indicates that AFL players must refrain from taking illicit and/or performance enhancing substances.
There are provisions in the Code that allow Clubs to penalise players where there has been a serious breach of the Code and, in cases of wilful misconduct, termination of the playing contract is open to the Club. I would argue that taking illegal drugs is a serious breach of the Code.
The problem with the current illicit drugs policy is that when a player is detected, he has already breached his playing contract with the Club. However, the Club is unaware of this until the third strike and is powerless to take any action it may deem appropriate. It is arguable that after a first strike and certainly after a second, the player comes within the ‘wilful misconduct’ provisions and could have his playing contract terminated. Without that knowledge of course, the Club is unable to act notwithstanding the player is engaged in illegal conduct.
Paul Roos’ analogy of ignoring motor car theft three times before taking action hopefully focusses those at AFL headquarters and the AFLPA on the problem of the current illicit drugs policy.
Time for a rethink!