News of 15 positives from the AFL's new drug testing regime has shocked many observers - shocked that the figure is so ridiculously low. This suggests that something is seriously awry with the testing methods. Incompetence ... or something more sinister?
Under the AFL's humiliating backdown last year, they agreed to implement the World Anti-Doping Agency's protocol for testing of drugs - including recreational drugs during the off-season through the Australian Sports Drug Agency. Naturally, there was a lot of push-back from the AFL Players' union over this one. But, in the end, they were offered a pile of free money from the taxpayers and despite their mindboggling riches, they couldn't so no to that. (Hey, free money is still free money, no matter how many millions you've got, right?)
The first results are starting to trickle in. The AFL is reporting that:
At least 15 AFL players have recorded positive tests for recreational drugs after less than a year of the league's new testing regime.
One player has been confirmed to have returned two positive readings under the tests, which cover drugs including cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines and marijuana.
"It was pretty full on, so I suppose it was a bit of a reality check. I think everyone was pretty surprised to hear the 15 figure," said one player, who asked not to be named. The figure is believed to not have been a full-year result and consequently the number of positive tests could be higher. But players were advised that about 15 positive results had been returned in 2005.
Concerned at anecdotal reports of the incidence of illicit drug use, the AFL last year changed its regime to introduce a more targeted approach to testing for recreational drugs. It is understood about 400 tests were carried out by the ASDA last year. Part of the intention of the illicit drug talk this year was evidently to shock players into understanding both the extent of drug use and the health and welfare dangers.
"Under the AFL's illicit drugs policy we are testing more, we are testing at more high-risk times such as at recovery sessions, and with that we will catch more people if they are doing drugs," [AFL football operations manager Adrian] Anderson said. (The Age, 10/3/2006)
So, we're being asked to believe that they got around 15 positives from testing 400 footy players for party drugs over a whole year? That is a hit rate of 4%. As AFL Player union kingpin Peter Bell put it:
"I wouldn't say I was surprised, I'd say that I was disappointed," Bell said.
"I'm disappointed if we have one person test positive for illicit drugs, but I suppose that's pretty naïve considering recent research shows that 30 per cent of 20 to 29-year olds in the general community would have used illicit drugs in the last year.
"Results gleaned from several years of testing AFL players indicate that illicit drug
use amongst AFL players is significantly less than use amongst the broader society
on a range of measures," AFLPA chief executive Brendon Gale said in a statement released later in the day. (The AFL, 10/3/2006)
In other words, AFL players take drugs at a rate of one tenth of the rest of the population. This is such a ridiculous conclusion that we can safely dismiss any notion that the testing regime is working. After all, well-known drug-taker Laurence "Moses" Angwin reported very widespread abuse of ecstasy, pointing out that "it wasn't just Carlton where this was happening, it was just commonplace, especially amongst the younger blokes". He suggested that of those indulging, most were taking it fortnightly.
The real story here is: why are so many AFL players managing to spoof the tests? Certainly, there is no shortage of commercial companies offering all manners of pills, lotions and techniques to ensure you pass your drug tests. Are AFL players strapping prosthetic penises to their groins and squeezing out baby piss? Or is there a manual or how-to for getting around these drug tests being passed from player to player?
We need to consider whether the explanation is actually decidedly darker ... Clearly, the clubs don't want to find any of their million-dollar investments sidelined from a positive test. Hell, players only need three positives (three!) before this happens. When untangling a conspiracy, the best advice is "follow the money". Who stands to lose the most from a positive result?
With the Commonwealth Games only days away, I hope our drug officials note these laughable figures and ask themselves - just how effective are these testing protocols when less than 4% of Aussie Rules players come back positive?
The outcome of the court case lifting the injunction is covered in detail here:
AFL Drug Takers Named and Shamed
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