Common sense struck up another victory yesterday as the AFL announced that it was tweaking its controversial “three strikes” illicit drugs policy. Under the new regime, club medical officers will now be notified the first time a player tests positive to an illicit drug. Doctors were initially only told of the second positive test, however this new policy will allow club doctors extra time to counsel and treat the player.

The offending player will only be “outed” and possibly suspended after a third positive test to illicit drugs, as it was under the previous policy.

The other change to the policy will see a private pathology firm performing the out-of-competition testing for illicit substances, with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority retaining control of testing for performance enhancing substances.

The three strikes aspect of the illicit drugs policy is still controversial in some quarters, particularly in light of the fact that other football codes have been much tougher on players who have tested to illicit substances in the past.

But in my view the AFL is right in identifying the major difference between sportsmen taking substances to boost their performance and those taking what was once officially referred to as “recreational” drugs. AFL general manager of football operations Adrian Anderson acknowledged as much when he said: “This move is designed to assist in ensuring that the two policies are not only separate, but are also seen as separate. We’ve been talking to ASADA for quite a while, (and) it’s a move that ASADA supported.”

With support from the AFL Players’ Association, the AFL would seem to have its house in order with regards to its drugs policy, with one major omission – alcohol.

Coincidentally, news of the revised drugs code came on the same day that Geelong announced its “indefinite” suspension of Steve Johnson following his arrest for being drunk in a public place on Christmas Eve, proving yet again that this legal drug proves to be the most difficult to handle for the young men who play the game.

Apart from the fact that Johnson has been involved in other alcohol-related incidents in the past, his cause would not have been helped by the fact that he didn’t tell the club of his latest escapade until a week after the fact.

While there are certainly no arguments with the AFL’s drugs policy, if you were an AFL footballer reading these two stories, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that you are much more likely to stay out of the headlines if you settle down for a joint or two over dinner as opposed to heading out for a big night on the turps.

Peter Fray

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