Rugby League

AFL clubs divided on what revised drugs policy should look like

Clubs remain split on how the AFL’s controversial illicit drugs policy can be improved, as debate over its effectiveness continues to rage within the community.

After images appeared on social media last weekend of Western Bulldogs star Bailey Smith with an illicit substance Hawks president Jeff Kennett called for a two-year ban on players found in possession of illicit drugs, while Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge wondered whether the policy should exist.

However, The Age’s anonymous survey of club bosses showed that significant support remained for the medical model in place, while even those who thought any loopholes that allowed players to take drugs without fear of consequence indicated the issue remained complex.

Bulldogs star Bailey Smith, and the photograph that circulated social media.Credit:Getty Images, Supplied

Seven of the 16 club bosses who responded to the survey did not support closing the so-called “loophole” in the AFL illicit drugs policy, which allows players with mental health issues to avoid strikes while they receive medical treatment.

Two club bosses said they didn’t accept it was a loophole but rather a legitimate mechanism to support players while another club boss said everyone needed to be reminded that the policy, agreed to by the players, was a medical model and their acceptance was on the basis it was not used as a punitive instrument. “They don’t have to agree,” the club boss said.

On the flipside, seven club bosses said the loophole needed to be shut or at least the criteria for entering a program rather than recording a strike should be tightened. One club boss said a model could be created that delivered support for players who used illicit drugs as well as increased deterrents.

No player has been suspended or named publicly after recording a second strike since the revised policy was introduced in 2015.

Two club bosses were undecided, with the complexity of what rules players should play under and who should receive information around an individual’s drug use still hotly debated.

The illicit drugs policy is under review with the AFL Players’ Association clear that they will only accept a revised policy that adheres to the principles of a medical model allowing players who test positive to illicit drugs to maintain confidentiality and enter a counselling process if they can show they have mental health issues.

Under the current model, the AFL medical director and the player’s club doctor – but not club management – are told of a positive first test. A club’s CEO and football manager also receive the results of hair testing conducted in the off-season.

They receive a de-identified report of the amount of drug use at their club, including the number of positives, players from the club receiving treatment under the policy, the type of substances detected and a comparison with other clubs. Beveridge said on Wednesday he was confident based on this data their club did not have a drug issue despite Smith’s situation.

The AFL suspended Smith for two matches as a result of him appearing on social media with an illicit substance.

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