Ben Cousins’ year of living dangerously has reached its seemingly inevitable conclusion with the AFL commission banning the Brownlow medalist from the competition for a year. Cousins is the obviously loser out of the saga, but so too is the AFL and its drug code.
Having fought off attacks on all fronts (including a withering assault from Dick Pound and WADA, and the Federal Governments threats to cut funding via the Australian Sports Commission as well as legislation aimed at forcing the AFL to change its policy), the AFL has folded in the face of public pressure and tabloid hysteria.
Its three strikes policy in relation to a player’s use of illegal/recreational drugs had a simple aim. It was designed to acknowledge personal drug use as a social and health issue and to help steer players away from poor lifestyle choices detrimental to their long-term health through education, rehabilitation and the threat of sanction if changes weren’t made.
It avoids a name and shame approach. It fall into line with standard practice across all jurisdictions to remove drug use from the criminal justice system and into a treatment and diversions regime to try to break the cycle of drug use. It’s plan A in the harm minimisation manual.
The AFL implemented a sophisticated drug policy. It was a bridge too far for many. Endless columns dedicated to pillorying the system were penned. Media organisations tried to breach the confidentiality of the system by naming players who might have tested positive under the code but hadn’t breached three strikes. Doctors’ records were found in gutters – for the right price of course.
And then there was Ben. He’s never been convicted in a criminal court. No in-competition testing has ever returned positive. And so far, he’s not breached the three strikes policy for out of competition testing.
Regardless of all this, the AFL holds a secret hearing to prosecute Cousins as a drug user. If his is a health and welfare issue, why is he being punished for his array of personal problems? Named and shamed. Isn’t that making a mockery of the intention of the drug policy in the first place?
Call me a little old fashioned in these matters but it seems self evident that if procedural fairness and natural justice were to apply, Cousins should be free to play. In this age of David Hicks and Dr Haneef, that’s all so very 20th century.
Further, if the AFL is keen to play moral militia on the conduct of those involved in the sport, I assume it will come out blazing in pursuit of the man who helped himself to $700 million of our money by fixing the price of cardboard products in this country.
Then again it’s easier to kick a drug user than it is a corporate crook in a fancy suit.