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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Footy Drug Tests Reveal Major Problem

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?

*** UPDATE ***

The outcome of the court case lifting the injunction is covered in detail here:
AFL Drug Takers Named and Shamed

Citations: The Age, 10/3/2006; The AFL, 10/3/2006

Word Count: 822

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    So what your saying is that because the AFL Players are (by test results anyway) doing the right thing, your disappointed? Dude that's the worst argument ever!

    Do I think that its only 15 players? May not, but I bet it is under the same number (by a big percentage) of the general population of the same demographic.

    Why? These guys have a lot more to loose and (contrary to your popular opinion) they aren't as dumb as you think.

    Also a lot of them are fitness freaks!

    On the WADA drug testing code, I think you will find that it actually watered down the testing rules but increased the penalties for players caught.

    These guys are people not robots and as much as we hope they won't do the wrong thing, there humanity always means some will be caught.

    PS. your not in the media are you? This is a pretty good beat up!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:47 am, March 13, 2006  

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  • What I'm saying is that the test results can't be trusted ie they are not a reliable indicator of reality.

    I'm basing this on commonsense and the reported remarks of drug-taking footy players like Moses Angwin.

    True, many would abstain. But not 96%. That's just absurd.

    And, no, I'm not in the media. I'm just a gifted amateur. :-)


    By Blogger Greg, at 2:59 pm, March 13, 2006  

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  • From hearing more about the positive results, its interesting to note that under WADA the AFL would have NO (i.e. NONE) resutls to report as WADA doesn't test for non-performance enhancing drugs out of competition.

    This doesn't address your issue of believing there are more drug takers, but definitely shows the AFL is doing its bit with these tests.

    You should really give them credit. And as for Spoofing the tests. As they are random without warning, I don't know that walking around with the devices you mentioned on all day every day in case they get tested would be worth their while. You may argue that they get tipped off, but if you do, your making a huge accusation and I am sure the drug agencys would love you to make it publicly as there are liable/slander laws in this country!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:13 pm, March 15, 2006  

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  • No, Molly, I wouldn't publicly claim that an agency is tipping them off. That would be highly defaming (known as libel, since it's published. Slander is defamation where you speak).

    But someone tipped me off that there really were some reports in the press a couple of weeks ago about AFL players passing around a photocopied "manual" for how to spoof these drug tests. Can't seem to google up any record of it now - was I given a bum steer on that one? Or has the Giant Media Conspiracy covered it up? :-)

    I will give the AFL credit for this when it comes forwards and says "Well, the drug-taking rate is 30% in the general population. But our tests show it's 4% amongst AFL players. Clearly, something's gone wrong with our tests. We're looking into it and will get back to you soon."

    Until they stop treating us like idiots, they will cop my contempt.

    By Blogger Greg, at 2:42 pm, March 15, 2006  

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  • I have just stumbled across your blog and enjoyed some of your views on AFL players' behaviour.
    I am totally in favour of your freedom to present your opinions.

    However, I do have a minor critisism of this article.

    I have to say it is not a reasonable arguement to say the testing system is flawed simply because it has record a low percentage of positive results.

    Footy players are not a representative sample of the general population, so comparing 4% of AFL players to 30% of the general community in invalid. Like them or not, AFL players are elite athletes - and use of recreational drugs (which usually have only a negative effect on health and fitness) would not be in their best interest.

    You should also consider that the risk of getting caught is MUCH higher for AFL players do to random testing, which is not a factor for the rest of us - hence it is a deterant to the players.
    Another significant deterant is the financial penalties incurred by players. They risk destroying their contracts and careers which they value highly.

    Personally, I love the sport and also disgusted by the behaviour of certain players - but please try to keep in mind that your generalisations and assumptions should be backed up by something more substancial than here-say and conjecture.

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents. Keep up the good work!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:29 pm, March 16, 2006  

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  • Yes, it's true that AFL players have a lot more to lose than most but the fact that Lawrence Angwin, reputedly a seriously talented footballer (we never really got to see whether that's true), kept on stuffing up is surely proof that, DESPITE having more to lose, that in itself is not a strong enough deterrent.

    [Equally, I wouldn't trust Angwin's view that drug-taking is rife among players. It's in his interest to say that to deflect some of the heat from his stupidity.]

    There are no doubt plenty of players who are fitness fanatics and wouldn't touch drugs with a 50-foot barge pole, but there are far too many stories around about them, particularly the young ones, going out on the booze at nightclubs, where drugs are freely available. It's therefore highly likely they've been offered drugs and that some at least take those drugs. And during the season, to boot.

    IMO, I think 4% pretty low, too, but until the AFLPA is brave enough to commit to ALL players being randomly tested, say a minimum of 6 times per year, during the season and out of it, we'll never truly determine a more accurate figure.

    However, why doesn't the AFLPA commission an anonymous survey of all the players and ask whether they do, or don't, take drugs? Whilst such surveys will contain errors, so too would the studies suggesting 30% (is this accurate?) of the general public take drugs.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:41 pm, March 22, 2006  

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  • Well having partied regularly with 3 afl players for most of last year, I don't think there was a period of more than 2 weeks when ecstacy wasn't used.

    We'd go out most weekends and and probably about 2 to 3 pills would be taken and if the player wasn't playing on the weekdn we'd probably take one on thursday nights as well.

    Their rationale for taking e's instead of drinking was down to skin folds and the amount of calories that beer would contain. Taking e's actually led to a decrease in skin folds due to dehydration... and ofcourse they are absolute party animals!!

    aaaahhh we had some great times...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:00 pm, March 29, 2006  

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  • Wow - what a fascinating insight into the world of AFL partying. I have a few questions that I hope you're prepared to answer ...

    1) What was their attitude towards being AFL players taking Es? I mean, did they feel that they were the special naughty ones and had to keep it a secret? Or was it more like "yeah, a few of the boys do this ... no biggie"?

    2) What (loosely speaking - don't be too specific) was your scene? Ie underground clubs and warehouse parties? Closed parties in privately-booked venues? Sitting around in someone's living room?

    3) Why did you stop? Was there a falling out? Did you "move on" from the rave scene? Did the new drug testing regime (or media scrutiny) make the players pull the plug?

    Personally, I wouldn't recognise any but the most famous handful of players. But plenty of people must have thought "Hey - isn't that such-and-such?" when a sweaty, twitchy dude with pupils like dinner plates jitters past, teeth grinding, at 6am. Still, I guess if you're up at 6am on a crowded dance floor, your hardly the type to go running to the media.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I look forward to seeing an AFL player breaking into the Melbourne Shuffle onfield!

    By Blogger Greg, at 11:50 pm, March 29, 2006  

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  • Hey Greg,

    1. Their attitude was more like we are young athletic men in the prime of our lives, lets make sure we partied with best of them. Girls want us guys buy us drugs and drinks so why not and it's alot better for you physically than drinking. My footy friends would always tell me, that if you ask a doctor which one is physically more harmful for you, a night of binge drinking or taking a couple of pills they will always say the pils.

    2. It didn't have to be underground clubs or raves etc, we could just go to a pub and take a pill. It's much easier to take a pill and control yourself than be drunk and control yourself and have a great time. So mostly just regular pubs and lounge bars. If you are with footy players you can get in anywhere.

    3. Well i stopped partying as much because i live a normal life with a 9-5 job. I can't afford or keep up with that type of partying for extended periods of time. My ambitions reach further (i hope) than football and partying.

    hahahah Melbourne shuffle... don't think so..

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:28 pm, April 04, 2006  

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  • Cool - thanks for the info. Sounds like the Es substitute for alcohol rather than the players are stepping out into the drug scene proper.

    That fits with what Dermot Brereton had to say to The Australian:

    Brereton, who starred for Hawthorn in the 1980s and still has close contact with players through his commentator duties, said drug-taking was said to be preferred to alcohol in post-season celebrations.

    "We heard rumours that somebody turned up to one of those mad Mondays and there wasn't a beer in sight ...
    (The Australian, 31/3/05)

    He obviously didn't see that hilarious photo of Eddie at the last Mad Monday that was doing the rounds on email ... damn can't find a link. Anyone got one?

    Oh - and what's wrong with the Melbourne Shuffle? It's one of the only innovative and unique dance steps to come out of this town!

    By Blogger Greg, at 9:48 pm, April 04, 2006  

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  • More evidence to support the claim that the 4% hit rate is both insulting to our intelligence and an indication that the integrity of the testing process is seriously flawed:

    In 2002, a year after his retirement, [former Sydney player Dale] Lewis said ecstasy, speed and marijuana were frequently being used by AFL footballers and that "out of 40 guys, if there wasn't 75 per cent who have done some sort of recreational drug, I'd go he". (Fox Sports, 30/3/06)

    How many footballers have to state the obvious before the media picks up on the fact that something is wrong with the testing process?

    By Blogger Greg, at 11:36 am, April 12, 2006  

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  • I was appauled when everyone shat on Lewis for saying that 75% of guys had taken some recreational drug. He may have exaggerated a bit but I think for the most part he was believable. A couple of years back NBA player Charles Oakley made similar comments. He stated that 60% of the league used marijuana. I tend to believe it. It's just a fact of life that without rules and regulations which includes frequent scruitiny of players, that drugs will be amongst common use.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:48 pm, April 12, 2006  

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  • Just found that hilarious photo of Eddie McGuire at a "Mad Monday" event ... when Dermie said there "wasn't a beer in sight" I guess he wasn't looking at Eddie.

    By Blogger Greg, at 4:35 pm, August 09, 2006  

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  • Of course, this whole article (and subsequent commentary) takes on a more sinister tone in light of the recent revelations regarding Port Adealaide.

    That's right, it seems the club has been correctly tipped off (via official Russell Ebert) about an upcoming ASADA drug test.

    Not sure who or how, but we'll be following this closely.

    By Blogger Greg, at 2:30 pm, April 24, 2007  

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