THE AFL clubs appear on a collision course with their players over holiday drug testing, as several club chiefs confirmed they would take on the players union over target testing of suspected illegal drug users.
It is believed that several clubs will push for the power to bring in AFL-sanctioned drug testers to target-test ”red alert” players on a daily basis during their out-of-season holiday in a bid to identify footballers with illicit drug habits.
While the AFL Players Association refused to comment publicly on potential changes to the current policy, it is believed the players have already entertained the prospect of more stringent holiday testing as concerns of off-season drug abuse have become increasingly rife in the game.
Every AFL club contacted yesterday by Fairfax Media confirmed they would support off-season target testing under special circumstances. Two clubs confessed they had unproven suspicions that a player in their group could have become a regular user of the highly addictive methamphetamine (ice), which paralysed the AFL career and the ongoing welfare of Ben Cousins.
Collingwood boss Gary Pert told the AFL club chiefs last week that he was desperately worried some players were entering the game as healthy young men and departing it with illegal drug habits. Pert said he had consulted West Coast chief Trevor Nisbett over that club’s problems with illegal drug use which culminated in the suspension and later sacking of Ben Cousins.
Pert did not mention any names at the AFL meeting but it is known that Collingwood player Dane Swan has been questioned about alleged drug use and denied it.
St Kilda has unofficially asked the same question of its star defender Sam Fisher, who has been the subject of concern among some Saints players. Fisher, too, has vehemently denied using illicit drugs.
Should the players’ union refuse to allow daily testing during the holiday period, several clubs said they would be prepared to take on the association to expose players hiding drug habits or identify bad influences among teams.
AFL chief Andrew Demetriou did not discount the prospect of changes to the illicit drugs policy – a policy that five years ago saw the AFL become the first sport in the world to introduce out-of-season hair testing. Hair testing is favoured because it can track drug use dating over a six-week period but the results cannot be counted as a positive drug strike.
Acting AFLPA boss Ian Prendergast refused to comment on the illicit drugs policy yesterday, but it is believed the players union has been consulting AFL doctors over the potential for more stringent holiday testing.
Demetriou said: ”What [Pert] was seeking was the input of the other CEOs and asking: ‘Is there any more we could be doing, as a football code?’ So we agreed to get together at the end of January – which actually wasn’t a scheduled CEOs meeting – to try and talk about this in a very mature way, and think about ways we can improve what we’ve currently got.”
The last recorded drug testing figures released were from the 2011 season in which six players tested positive to illicit drugs, and although fewer tests took place, the AFL said more players were target tested.
The last time a club independently drug tested its players was Carlton in 2004 when then Blues president Ian Collins ordered Karl Norman and Laurence Angwin to undertake testing when the pair turned up at training under the influence of ecstasy.
Collins defended his move on the grounds of occupational health and safety. The AFL rewrote its illicit drug code soon after.
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