Today I rise to discuss the drug scandals that have recently affected AFL football. There is now a significant time-line of drug scandals in the AFL leading up to the major headline at the moment involving Ben Cousins and the West Coast Eagles. As Liberal spokesman for sport, recreation and racing, I have a keen interest in the drug scandal, not only as a parent and a follower of the code but now with the responsibility to speak on behalf of the Liberal Party about this subject. The new Liberal leader, Martin Hamilton-Smith, has raised the Liberal Party’s position on illicit drugs in sport—and particularly in the AFL—and discussed our disappointment at how key people at AFL House are handling drug-related issues.
The leader recently instructed me to write to the chief executive of the AFL. I will share the contents of that letter with the council, as follows:
Dear Mr Demetriou, I write to express my concern about the current controversy regarding the alleged use of illegal drugs by AFL players and the mixed message the AFL is sending to the general community, particularly young people, in its handling of drug-related issues.
My core concern is the message the AFL may be sending to its fans is that illicit drug use and drug taking within the AFL is allowable, whereas for the rest of the community it is simply illegal.
There are a number of other issues including the fact that it appears information about players’ positive drug tests were not handed on to the clubs or even the police.
Our society will no longer tolerate the use of illicit drugs.
As Parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to make laws that reflect the will of the people, for all people—not with the exclusion of professional AFL players.
The AFL’s current policy appears to passively condone drug use.
I am requesting the AFL make its position on illegal drugs clear, and to reinforce that there should be a zero tolerance approach taken on positive drug tests.
This week’s debacle regarding Adelaide’s AFL clubs receiving prior warning of drug testing to be carried out by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority must be thoroughly investigated by the AFL.
I support the South Australian AFL teams call for notification to clubs on a player’s first positive test, and further add that if the positive test is for an illegal drug then that information is also passed on to police. I doubt if a young player would risk his lucrative career if there was the risk of being banned from the AFL and having a criminal record.
For the sake of many young fans of AFL in South Australia and from around the nation, I ask that you make it clear that any form of drug use in the AFL will not be tolerated.
It is signed by me. Given the recent heavy-handed reaction to gambling in the AFL, I am astounded that the AFL has not been more comprehensive in its approach to cleaning up the incidence of illicit drug use in the game. I understand that the current AFL illicit drugs policy allows offenders three strikes before they are publicly named. This is a policy that is about as ferocious as being thrashed with a wet lettuce.
Simon Goodwin and the Adelaide Football Club must be shaking their heads at the ridiculously huge fine he received for his error of judgment regarding betting on AFL games, but I add that I am in no way condoning his actions. The mind boggles, though, as to why the AFL seems to be taking a hard line approach to betting and a more passive approach to illicit drug use.
We will simply not tolerate the use of illicit drugs in our society today. Governments are spending millions of dollars on efforts to highlight the dangers of illicit drugs and how easily they can wreck young people’s lives. I am constantly warning my own children to avoid dangerous substances and yet my teenage son, who closely follows the game, can see that the AFL is taking a pathetic stance with regard to illicit drugs. If any of our children were caught with illicit substances in their schools, I can assure members that they would not be given three strikes. Anyone caught in public with illicit drugs will face significant fines and possible gaol time. It is time that the AFL reflected society’s view on the taking of illicit substances—and that view is that it is just not on.
Only a few years ago the AFL came down hard on performance-enhancing drugs, and it must now realise that illicit drugs are having just as serious an impact on the game. Coaches, players and fans are saying that they are worried about drugs becoming part of the footy culture, so the AFL must act decisively to stop this happening. A recent document from the AFL Players Association commented that `the AFL conducts more testing for illicit drugs than any other sporting body in Australia and probably the world.’
Perhaps the increase in testing should be applauded; however, I firmly believe that penalties are not strong enough to prevent players from getting involved with drugs in the first place. Counselling, education and rehabilitation (such as Ben Cousins is currently undertaking for his apparent addiction) is, of course, vital, but let us ensure that players know that getting involved with illicit drugs will be detrimental to their career and will not be tolerated. The AFL can achieve this by having more significant penalties in place.
Our release to the media and letter to AFL House make the Liberal Party’s position clear: a zero tolerance approach must be taken up. I now call for Premier Rann to make clear his government’s position on the situation. I would expect that, as Mr Rann claims to be tough on drugs and tough on crime, he would have an extremely strong opinion on the matter and that he should join the opposition in condemning the AFL’s pathetic stance.