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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Getting To Zero Footy Drug Positives

With new results for the AFL's drug testing regime showing a marked drop in positives, The Speccy is going to shock our readership by congratulating the AFL for finally fixing its illicit drugs woes once and for all. We also suggest some simple administrative measures that the League can look at to shake those pesky few remaining positives.

In earlier posts, we criticised heavily the existing drug testing policy as being manifestly inadequate, with a mere 15 positive results out of several hundred tests. As recently as this week we argued that the results are a sham and an affront to the intelligence of thinking people everywhere.

Despite the large number of drug-based stories reported in these pages, of quality investigative journalism exposing scandals, covertly taped recordings between dealers and players, admissions by coaches and drug runners alike of player use, statements by former greats, allegations by fallen players, talk of masking agents being supplied by drug dealers, persistent rumours of a guide or manual for beating the system, an eight-week test-free period and other factors - we now see the light. Hell, even the seven out of eight positives for the Brownlow toilets don't necessarily point to a industry awash with drugs!

Regular commenter and AFL fan-boy Molly has set us on the path to wisdom with a powerful explanation for the seemingly low number: the testing is fine and practically no players use drugs.

I'll admit, I wondered about the efficacy of the testing program when Ben Cousins was able to snarfle down a reported $3000 a week of drugs (allegedly crystal meth and cocaine). News that Michael O'Loughlin (247 games in 13 seasons) has never been tested might have afforded cynics an easy cop-out. Especially when backed up by other accounts of bare-bones testing.

But apparently, there were only nine instances of drug use by AFL players in the past 12 months. Goes to show: truth is stranger than fiction.

THE TESTS

A total of 990 tests over two years — about 500 each year

2005
2006
  • Nine positive drug tests
  • One for marijuana
  • Eight for other drugs
  • No player failed a second test
Source: The Age, 29/3/2007

At this rate, things will be entirely fixed next year. AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson has stated a goal of zero positives: "We acknowledge that one positive test is one too many," a view echoed by the AFL Players' Association's Brendan Gale: "One is too many".

We can see why - these positives are bad for business as they demoralise fans and threaten cash flows for the League, its players and executives. While the AFL has done a lot to get the rate down, here are some simple suggestions for eliminating those positives entirely:

  • Testing Times. The AFL - in conjunction with the union - has done a lot to ensure that players aren't subject to 24/7/52 testing. Why not further restrict it to 3pm to 4pm on match days (if the month has an "r" in it, during a leap year)? That'll get the number of positives down quick smart.
  • Targeting Players. Already, club doctors only have to act on "credible information". But how credible? Simply redefine "credible" to mean "statutory declarations from three senior judges independently stating they witnessed a player with a needle in his arm". Anything less than that can be safely dismissed as "malicious gossip".
  • Drugs in Scope. Testing players for popular party drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, speed and the like is just asking for trouble. They should stick to testing for obscure, outdated and fictional drugs like laudanum, soma and melange.
  • Repeatability. This is the cornerstone of proper science. If you get a positive result, just keep testing and re-testing until you get a negative that will invalidate the preceding 413 false positives.
  • Chemical-Free. Isn't it hypocritical using chemistry to ensure players are chemical-free? Testers should only be able to use the five senses God gave them (plus the power of prayer) to establish the presence of illicit drugs.
  • Sample Material. Rejecting hair and blood samples was a wise move. But even urine may cause a positive. No, better to take the samples from players' socks instead.
  • Scheduling. No-one wants an unexpected drug test - that might end with bad news for all concerned. Give the players a roster (with one veto each) and watch the positives melt away.
  • Points System. The AFL should a take a page from the demerit points system used on our roads. Players should accrue lost points over time, have the option of buying points back and being able to nominate someone else to lose points for them.
  • Consumer Advice. There's a lot of snake-oil out there for products that allegedly "beat the system". The AFL should conduct a study into which ones really work to ensure players aren't wasting their time and money.
  • Expert Oversight. A suitably experienced Testing Oversight Board could be drawn from the executive ranks of AWB, Enron and the Indonesian Cabinet. Brian Burke would make an excellent chairman.
  • Hide Positive Results. The simplest solution; just use the power of the courts to make sure the public doesn't get to find out. Oh wait, they already do that.
I'm sure there are other steps - please feel free to post your own suggestions below.

Taken singly or in combination, these measures would ensure the AFL is never again blighted by the positive drug results. Public confidence in the game will be restored, and we can get back to either paying $8 for a pie or $60 a month for Foxtel. Everybody's happy.

*** UPDATE ***

The AFL may well be seeing further downwards pressure on its positive rate: it seems that upcoming ASADA drug tests are being leaked to clubs. In a further blow to the integrity and credibility of the testing regime, Port Adelaide got an accurate prediction of drugs testing:
THE AFL is investigating how a Port Adelaide Football Club employee was tipped off 52 hours before yesterday's drug testing at Alberton Oval.

Four-time Magarey Medallist Russell Ebert, the Power's community youth program manager, was told of the impending drug tests at 10am Saturday during his role as a sports talkback panelist on Radio FIVEaa.

The man - who did not go to air and did not have his tip-off aired on Saturday - told Ebert "to be forewarned is to be forearmed".

The accurate warning brings into question security measures around the AFL's random drug testing.

Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority testers arrived at Alberton Oval at 2pm yesterday to enforce both the AFL's performance-enhancing and illicit-drugs code on five Power players. (Adelaide Now, 24/4/2007)


Of course, if this were merely one instance out of many widespread corrupt practices involving numerous clubs over a long period, how can the public have any faith in the AFL (or ASADA) to detect and root out the problem?

*** UPDATE ***

Just when you think you've covered all the bases for ways to cover-up a problem, the AFL comes along and trumps even these wild suggestions.

In their quest for zero-positives, the bozos who dreamt up the AFL's drug policy left open a sickeningly large loophole: you don't have to pee if you don't want to.

Staggering, I know. But here's the scoop from The Hun:
AN AFL player has escaped testing for illicit drugs after telling testers he was unable to produce a urine sample.

The player, from Hawthorn, was last week allowed by an AFL-contracted drug agency to avoid a test in the latest flaw to be exposed in the game's illicit drugs code.

Permission for the footballer to escape the test was an unprecedented break with protocol followed by sports drug-testing bodies around the world.

The testers, from Dorevitch Pathology, asked club officials to provide a replacement player. (Herald-Sun, 16/5/2007)

It makes a mockery of claims by the league and the players' union that they have some sort of super-strength testing regime in force. What an insult to sports-lovers in our community. Here's what a real sports professional (who is actually committed to stamping out drugs in his sport) had to say about this farce:
Amid yesterday's fallout, renowned athletics coach Nic Bideau described the AFL's illicit drugs code as a "joke".

"A joke, a waste of time, useless," said Bideau, former trainer of Cathy Freeman and current trainer of middle distance star Craig Mottram.

"I know they say they are doing something no one else does in sport in testing for illicit drugs.

"But if you decide to test and then you select someone for a test, that athlete must provide a sample, no matter how long it takes, and the drug testers stay until they have.

...

"Everybody wants a clean sport, but it is a waste of time having the rule if you are going to tell people there will be drug testers coming around in three or four days' time (as happened with Port Adelaide players last month).

"It is a waste of time having the rule if a bloke says I can't provide a sample because I don't have enough urine. You can't be flexible with this." (Herald-Sun, 17/5/2007)

Bloody hell. Is this the way you'd run a drug testing regime if you really wanted to catch out the drug users?

*** UPDATE ***

It seems I'm not alone in expressing concern about the efficacy of the drug-testing regime. Even players have come out with doubts about the professionalism of Dorevitch Pathology and the AFL's testing policies:
Collingwood's Nick Maxwell, an AFL Players Association executive member, said teammates had told him some tests were poorly handled.

"We've had blokes from our club who have said people doing it haven't been great professionally," Maxwell said.

"They have said if they wanted to and they had something to hide, they might be able to get away with it.

[...]

Maxwell said he had not been tested often.

"I'll probably regret saying this, but I've been tested twice since I started, so twice in five years," Maxwell said.

"And I haven't been tested for a year and a half. (Herald-Sun, 12/9/2007)


Are these the actions of people committed to stamping out drug use - or just stamping out bad news?

*** UPDATE ***

At least one senior club doctor is calling for an end to the "six week party time period" that follows each season. (This is the "no test" period which allows players to indulge in as much drug-taking as they want, free from recriminations from their employer.) Good for him for speaking up against this sham.

Citations: Adelaide Now, 24/4/2007; Herald-Sun, 16/5/2007; Herald-Sun, 17/5/2007; Herald-Sun, 12/9/2007

Word Count: 1827


Tags: footy, drugs

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4 Comments:

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  • Excellent suggestions. Since Sportsmen tend to listen mostly too each other, rather than anyone outside their world, I suggest the AFL people bring in some people who can council the players if they feel a little tempted. For the performance enhancement I think the AFL should draft in Barry Bonds from American baseball. He can council players on the dangers and disadvantages of performance enhancing drugs. The second person, who could council them on the dangers of recreational drugs the AFL could draft in Maradona. This upstanding pillar of wisdom could help the AFL players deal with the psychological effect of fame and steer them away from the dangers of recreational drugs. Finally, just so the AFL can celebrate 0 positive tests, they can commission a song produced by Phil Specter and performed by Keith Urban. This rousing ditty could celebrate the reformation and re birth of Ben Cousins as he stars in yet another drug free Grand Final. I think if all of these actions were taken, and the ones outlined above, then we can be proud of a drug free AFL.

    By Blogger Simon, at 9:07 pm, March 29, 2007  

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  • Good post Greg! Glad you are so predictable that you even link to me predicting your response (http://ghill.customer.netspace.net.au/speccy/2007/03/here-we-go-again-scandal-deepens.html#c371542000420854304).

    But you know what, I think you can go to a low, less relevant

    Just to clear it up, I did say that the 9 where the tip of the iceberg and that they need to do more tests.

    But then again, with your attitude that they are just people and shouldn't get the special treatment , should you (not me) argue that they shouldn't be tested as most people aren't and why should they get special treatment and be tested?

    Molly

    By Anonymous Phillip Molly Malone, at 2:14 am, March 30, 2007  

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  • As is usual with the fuzzy-minded crap spouted in the media about these issues, you seem to have immense trouble in distinguishing the difference between performance-enhancing drugs and illicit "recreational" drugs. Having a "clean" sport has nothing to do with holier-than-thou media intrusions into players private lives. Get off your bloody soapbox.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:30 am, August 30, 2007  

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  • Get off your bloody soapbox.

    Why? So I can let you have a turn on it?

    No need - there's plenty of room on it for everyone.

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:53 am, August 30, 2007  

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