Rugby League

AFL illicit drugs code not perfect, admits Dangerfield

AFL Players Association president Patrick Dangerfield admits the league's illicit drugs policy isn't perfect but has denied claims there was a club with 16 players who had escaped testing because of mental health reasons.

3AW host Ross Stevenson said on Wednesday that there had been more than a dozen players from one club who had avoided testing because of a mental health diagnosis.

AFLPA president Patrick Dangerfield says while the drug policy is not perfect, it is working.Credit:AAP

Dangerfield, who has listed mental health as the biggest issue the AFLPA has to deal with, denied Stevenson's claim.

"I'm not sure where those numbers have come from but I think they've been plucked out of the sky and I would severely doubt that," Dangerfield said on SEN.

"The system is in place for a reason.

"It is not there to be exploited so we've got to continue to communicate that message and I'm really confident the vast majority of players understand that really clearly."

The illicit drugs debate, an annual headline-grabber heading into the new season, has prompted club presidents Peter Gordon and Jeff Kennett to call for change, while former St Kilda coach Grant Thomas has also weighed in from his time in charge from 2001 to 2006.

Several club presidents want to know if any of their players have tested positive and had an initial strike to their name, with fears some players have avoided being tested using mental health as an excuse.

"I think there's always going to be a level of dissatisfaction with clubs and that's fair enough, but no program is ever perfect. We're always working for ways to improve," Dangerfield said.

"We're aware of it but we've got to make sure as an industry, as players, as the AFL and as clubs, we're providing the best services for our players, and that's always an adjusting process.”

The code was implemented in 2005 and is separate to the anti-doping policy.

It is a voluntary agreement by the players.

It was revamped in 2015 when it was felt players had found a loop-hole by self-reporting, meaning they escaped a strike.

Tougher penalties were introduced, with players publicly named after a second, rather than third, strike.

St Kilda chief executive Matt Finnis, also the former chief of the AFLPA, said the policy could again be reworked.

"That's why the changes that were made to the policy where it went essentially from three strikes down to two strikes and more information and provided more accountability around some of the ways in which you're required to comply and the hair testing," he said.

"They were a response to a feeling there might be some players trying to run the gauntlet or get through the way the framework works.

"The one thing that I'd say is the AFL and the players, there's a track record of adapting the policy as it’s evolved."

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