Clubs winning illicit drugs war

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Magpies boss Gary Pert.

Magpies boss Gary Pert.
Source: Getty Images

AFL clubs say they are winning the war against illicit drug use and “volcanic” behaviour a year on from Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert’s provocative call to arms.

The AFL will detail the results of last year’s testing for illicit drugs in the coming months.

Twenty-six strikes and more than 20 self-reporting episodes were recorded in 2012, a dramatic increase on previous years.

The Herald Sun understands the number of positive tests was encouragingly low during last season but the number of strikes from the more problematic off-season period is not yet known.

The players’ union and clubs believe illicit-drug strikes are unlikely to return to the 2011 level of just six because of more target-testing and better detection from the AFL’s beefed-up illicit drug code.




Club bosses are adamant the incidence of self-reporting has dropped and there has been a dramatic decrease in the off-season behaviour that prompted Pert to speak out in late 2012.

Pert said he had been overwhelmed by the positive support for his comments, and the far-reaching changes that had resulted.

“There is no doubt it was an appropriate time for the industry to get together and focus our attention on this issue,’’ he told the Herald Sun.

“We are clubs with young men, so this will always be a battle.

Outgoing AFL Chief Executive Andrew Demetriou has denied claims he was pushed out of his role, insisting he made the decision to leave his post at season’s end a while back.

“In the conversations I have had with CEOs from other clubs, with players, with player managers and with the families of young players, it was the right time to raise it.

“Rule changes were made, and we really put it top of mind for anyone thinking of dabbling with those activities. There is no doubt to me that every aspect of the industry has seen it as positive timing, and it has given us appropriate outcomes.”

While many clubs will hope for a reduced amount of positive illicit-drug tests, Pert said the success of the policy did not hinge on numbers alone.

Matt Finnis, Gary Pert, Andrew Demetriou and Peter Harcourt at last year’s drugs summit.

Matt Finnis, Gary Pert, Andrew Demetriou and Peter Harcourt at last year’s drugs summit.
Source: News Limited

More target-testing and better detection methods could result in the number of positive tests being similar to 2012. Tests were done on at-risk players and at recovery sessions following weekends.

The AFL’s annual report details new ways clubs can deal with players who do not respect the illicit drug code, even if they have not recorded a strike.

Players who “engage in conduct or display an attitude contrary to the objectives, spirit and implementation” of the code are warned that if they don’t shape up, their club chief executive will be told.

No club has yet used the protocol, but the AFL is still aware of a rogue element of players who try to run the gauntlet.

Under the new rules, clubs are being told by the AFL of the illicit-drug profiles of their players — including the number of positive tests and the type of drugs used.

Clubs are funding extra target-testing, with Port Adelaide confirming it had hair-tested its players during the off-season.

Melbourne co-captain Jack Grimes and teammates Jack Trengove and Colin Garland have paid tribute to Dean Bailey, speaking candidly about Bailey’s influence on their AFL careers.

Pert said even if the numbers were similar to 2012, it did not mean the code was failing.

“The experts say don’t get caught in up judging the success or failure of a program on the amount of positives,’’ he said.

“Each time you have a positive, you have made contact with a player who needs greater education and potentially support.

“I didn’t see the amount of positive tests as a negative, because that was the amount of footballers we were able to give support to.”

Changes to the illicit drugs policy last year enabled clubs to fund additional target tests on players “subject to there being reasonable grounds”, and the number of hair tests was increased at the end of last season.

Hair tests can show drug use up to three months old. Positive results do not count as a strike against a player, but target-testing then follows.

Target tests can include the testing of urine, from which a positive result counts as a strike.

The AFL Players’ Association and AFL Commission last year agreed to limit players’ self-reporting to once a career, after it was revealed some players had repeatedly self-reported their illicit drug use to avoid a strike.

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