Loopholes put league drug policy in spotlight


The AFL’s three strikes illicit drugs policy has come under fire. Photo: Tom Varco (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The recent drug scandal with Collingwood star player Jack Ginnivan has brought to light the use of illegal drugs within the AFL.

While for Ginnivan it was a “lack of judgement”, for other players it may be an everyday occurrence – so the AFL’s Illicit Drug Policy will help, right?

The policy was released back in 2005.

There was a change made in 2015  which, according to the AFL Players Association (AFLPA), created the three-strike rule.

  • The first strike is a $5000 fine with a compulsory counselling and education program.
  • The second strike is a four-match ban with another $5000 sanction, the club being notified, and publicly released information about the sanction.
  • The third and last strike is a twelve-match ban and a $10000 fine.

But if a player were to go to the doctor privately to “self-report” by admitting they have been doing drugs, there seems to be little to no blowback.

In 2022 Eddie McGuire spoke on Nine’s Footy Classified about the policy, and said it was “absolutely laughed at” by the players.

He talked about some players being blackmailed, publicly outed and sanctioned while others who “have a bad night” go straight to the doctors and face few or no consequences.

Also after the 2022 season Nick Riewoldt on Fox Footy’s On the Couch highlighted drug use in the AFL and how it impacted a fellow player, Sam Fisher.

Fisher was caught smuggling many drugs regularly over state borders in 2022.

After Fisher’s arrest, Riewoldt said the AFLPA and the AFL were “too late” in providing help for Fisher and other teammates after his retirement and described what these organisations were doing as “not working”.

He says that they need to step up to support former players after their retirement before incidents like this happen again.

He mentioned that drug use sanctions within the AFL leave too much “wiggle-room” which creates loop-holes for players to continue to use illicit substances and “slip through the cracks”.

The loopholes Riewoldt was talking about is the self-reporting.

Tom Basso at the Mongrel Punt  wrote about self-reporting and how it is being abused by the players.

The ‘self-reporters’ he talks about are not facing the same consequences as the players outed in the media.

He mentions a Collingwood player, back in 2012, who went and reported himself doing drugs three times and never received a single strike.

He also compared recent drug scandals such as those of Ben Cousins, Jake Carlisle and Shane Mumford, who never went through their doctors and only got caught out by the media or police.

Basso says the policy isn’t for protecting the players but “protection for the AFL’s image.”

Also, former AFL-player, Brandon Jack wrote a piece on GQ about how there is more than meets the eye in terms of drug use at the sport’s elite level.

He said he had first-hand experience with drugs while playing AFL and admitted to using them while playing for a club, saying that with every player that is outed by the media, there were at “least fifty” players that take drugs behind closed doors.

Jack described the AFL viewing the drug problem as one of “reputation” rather than a health or legal issue and quoted Mark Robinson, co-host for AFL 360, who said Bailey Smith was punished for embarrassing “the brand of the AFL” rather than being punished for actually doing drugs.

A copy of the so-called Illicit Drug Policy was requested from the AFL and the AFLPA, who were contacted for this piece.

The AFLPA replied with a copy of the Anti-Doping code, which covers performance enhancing substances and does not explicitly mention the consequences of taking any recreational drugs.