AFL Operations Boss, Adrian Anderson, fronted the media yesterday to proudly trumpet the “substantial reduction in illicit drug use by AFL players”. Anderson noted that AFL players delivered only nine positive drug test results in the year to February 2007 – down from nineteen the previous year.

However, the situation isn’t quite as rosy as the AFL is making out. While only nine positive tests were recorded last year, the AFL stated that only 490 tests were actually conducted. As each team has around 44 players on their list, that means that less than 70% of players were actually last year. That true figure is likely to be lower as some players would have been tested on multiple occasions.

As noted in The Age, players aren’t tested for illicit drugs during that six to eight week holiday after the season (unless specifically returning to the club) – which presumably would be the most likely time when drugs would be consumed. Swans star Michael O’Loughlin even noted that in thirteen years of senior AFL football he had not once been tested for illicit drugs out of competition.

The AFL Players Association, led by former Richmond player and Mallesons lawyer, Brendon Gale, supports the AFL’s lenient stance. Yesterday, Gale noted that “[In] not many workplaces around the country are you tested for illegal drugs.” Someone should let Gale know that there aren’t too many workplaces in Australia where methamphetamine addicts earn $800,000 per year and are role models to hundreds of thousands of children.

Further, while the AFL regularly boasts of a “world leading” illicit drug testing regime in reality, it has fallen behind many other large codes. For example, the NFL conducts more than 12,000 tests each year (plus compulsory pre-season tests for recreational drugs for every player). The NBA tests players at least four times per year while the NHL tests players at least twice annually. By contrast, the AFL averages less than one test per player per year.

The Ben Cousins/Daniel Kerr/Chad Fletcher allegations imply that illicit drugs are rife amongst AFL players. While the AFL and the Players Association are certainly not responsible for prevalence of drugs and their use, they shouldn’t be proudly claiming to be maintaining a world leading anti-drug stance when the reality is that the AFL’s testing regime is woefully inadequate.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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