Players fend off rants over drugs

When, in 2005, the AFL Players Association agreed to have its players randomly tested for illicit drugs, it was permitting the opening of a Pandora’s box. The depth of mischief lying therein continues to emerge.

At the time, there were strict limits to the process, the most fundamental being that – barring a third offence by a player within a four-year period – the identity of those returning positive tests would remain confidential.

Almost immediately there was outrage, much of it born of confusion. Other sports don’t conceal the identity of their drug offenders, went the stereotypical rant, why are AFL footballers being protected?

This, it’s now better – if not totally – understood, was to confuse the testing for illicit drugs with the global sporting practice of performance-enhancing drug-testing. But the three-strike aspect of the illicit drug code has continued to attract critics like bees to the proverbial honey pot. Jeff Kennett, as president of Hawthorn, trumpeted against it. He spoke of running any player found to have used illicit drugs out of his club.

Ironically, and sadly, it was Hawthorn’s Travis Tuck who was the first – and thus far only – player to record three strikes.

The then federal government of John Howard sought to smash the policy in 2007 but a pair of confused ministers, George Brandis and Christopher Pyne, were given short shrift at a meeting with AFL boss Andrew Demetriou. Beyond grandstanding politicians, World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey has described the three-strikes policy as soft and accused the AFL of setting a bad example. The prominent News Limited columnist, Patrick Smith, denounced from day one what he considers an overly liberal policy and is maintaining the rage eight years on.

The criticisms kept coming but, one by one, were stared down by the collective strength of the AFL and the players’ representative body. A deal was a deal – particularly one that permitted an invasion of individual privacy – and, as uncomfortable as the AFL may have been with the negative publicity, it couldn’t renege.

Lately the ante has again been raised. There have been suggestions of players abusing the self-reporting loophole, enabling them to avoid a strike by owning up before a positive test result was confirmed. Collingwood chief executive officer, Gary Pert, described the activity of some players during the off-season as ”volcanic”, thus adding a new word to football’s lexicon.

There was a summit, and – with the heat rising – the players’ association gave some ground. Curiously, given that Demetriou has said the self-reporting condition may have contributed to the saving of two lives, it has been tightened. It will now offer a player just one get-out-of-jail card in a career. Another modification allows for club CEOs to be given notification of the identity of players who appear to be behaving contrary to the spirit of the policy. Also, there will be more target testing and an increased level of hair testing of players during what is spoken of as the ”high risk” off-season.

As well as a three-strike policy the illicit drugs code has become a thin-end-of-the-wedge policy. With every passing year there comes pressure for the AFLPA to compromise further. There is no reciprocity in the deal and the politics are such that there is no escape. This makes it an evolving and recurring nightmare. Matt Finnis, the chief executive of the players’ body, must fear by now that the unceasing demands will only grow. And some he will have to accept.

His intractable problem is that the public’s understanding of the issue is limited and its response is emotional. It is based on revulsion towards one word and one issue: drugs. The widely held view is that any liberties granted to footballers, within a policy dedicated to the fight against drugs, is shameful. There is little, if any, recognition that the players made the code possible in the first place.

Season by season – and out of season too – the illicit drug code has been scrutinised and savaged. With Thursday’s release of figures showing a 400 per cent increase last year in positive tests (amplified by the previous year’s low base number), the rhetoric has again been ramped up. The recent joining of dots by Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner, Graham Ashton – of illicit drug use to organised crime to match-fixing – takes the pressure to a new level. Ashton’s view is that this link is a greater threat to the integrity of sport in Australia than the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.

If such a link was ever materially confirmed, the pressure on players to accept unqualified scrutiny on illicit drugs would be overwhelming. Given that the three-strike policy has never gained broad acceptance, imagine the problem if the public linked it to crime and the corruption of games.

That could conceivably be checkmate for Finnis and the players’ association . What was always a well-intentioned, but ill-considered, agreement may be nearing end game.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲学校.

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