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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.


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

  • 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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Monday, March 26, 2007

Brodie Holland Avoids Conviction

In a powerful signal that footballers are beyond the law, Brodie Holland has escaped conviction for punching out a young woman in public. His fiancee, Sarita Stella, and another accomplice are likely to plead guilty in a later hearing. Holland walked away with hardly any sanction at all for his violent assault on the much smaller and weaker victim: just a very modest fine.

News that the Collingwood media-performer, eye-candy man and occasional footballer first struck a woman emerged shortly after the December, 2005 incident. His hearing was scheduled for March, 2006. This was not acceptable, so it was pushed back to after the Grand Final. This still couldn't work, so it was pushed back yet again to March, 2007. Many might condemn that it can take almost 18 months to deliver justice in a straight-forward case. Honestly, the Melbourne Magistrates Courts (AFL Division) should be jolly well happy that Holland's people were able to schedule in his hearing at all. He's an important, busy guy with a lot on his plate.

After Holland was able to finally squeeze in the court case, the details emerged. Sarita Stella and her friend Brooke Hawken fought with another woman, Catherine Hill (no relation), outside the Billboards nightclub over a taxi cab. The court heard that Hawken opened the door, which hit Hill, and it was on between the three women. Not content with a mere two-to-one advantage, Holland intervened, perhaps acting on a "swarming" instinct :

After some time Holland stepped into the fracas, grabbing Ms Hill from behind and declaring: "What the f--k are you doing, you stupid slut?" When Ms Hill shrugged off Holland's tackle, he put her in a headlock, but she then bit him on the stomach.

"The stupid slut bit me," the footballer said and responded with a punch to
Ms Hill's head which, according to one witness, left her with her eyes rolling back into her head.

Holland pleaded guilty to one count of recklessly causing injury with the blow, which his lawyer Terry Forrest, QC, said was an over-reaction the footballer now regretted. (The Age, 26/3/2007)

Gee, what a gallant guy. A huge, hulking, professional sportsmen punches a young woman in the head. And gets away with it more-or-less unscathed. Magistrate Duncan Reynolds saw fit to ensure no conviction was recorded for the violent assault, being satisfied that a paltry fine amounting to much less than 1% of Holland's annual income would suffice.

Was this wise? The last AFL player caught hitting a woman in the head at a nightclub was Heath Scotland. The magistrate in that case - Paul Smith - let Scotland escape conviction too, apparently to ensure he could pursue a firefighting career (!?). A few months later, Scotland is once again facing allegations of ... yep, punching a woman in the head out the front of a pub in Ballarat.

Brodie Holland is no stranger to the courts, having been fined over other offences. He's also frequently in front of the AFL's own judiciary for violence and is likely to be suspended for a month or more for his recent on-field behaviour. Despite this, Magistrate Reynolds reckoned Holland is a good bet owing to his volunteer work with the homeless. This does beg the question: exactly how much volunteering must one do in order to punch women in the head and be safe from any conviction? Presumably, at least as much as Scotland and Holland have managed.

An interesting side-effect of this inordinately lengthy delay in justice has been that Sarita Stella (formerly of The Price is Right) was given plenty of breathing room to get her business, Model Behaviour, off the ground. She's been spruiking her products and services on telly, in the papers - even been a "racing ambassador" (sans diplomatic immunity, apparently) - all without having to answer any awkward questions about her role in the assault. Lucky girl.

Speaking of being blessed with free publicity, Brodie "Dutchy" Holland (and his amazing abs) was made famous on Channel 7's Dancing With The Stars. No word yet on whether or not he will try to restore his image with another appearance. Hell, if it works for Holland then Ben Cousins should give Dancing On Ice a go ...

*** UPDATE ***

Brodie Holland's girlfriend Sarita Stella has followed the path of her wayward man with a conviction in the Melbourne Magistrates Courts (AFL Division) for her role in this fracas.

Sadly, a media blackout seems to be in force right now, with The Age, The Herald-Sun, NineMSN and the ABC all rejecting coverage of this story. No doubt Stella's business selling "chicken liver" bra implants, "Hollywood tape" and other breast-related products would be threatened by bad press. Funny - these outlets are happy enough to run story after story involving shots of her artifically enhanced cleavage.

Thankfully, I did catch a brief story on Channel Ten news last night (I guess they didn't get the memo yet). I recall she was convicted and fined $500 - but if anyone's got a source I'd be happy to quote it.

If there is a media ban deal in place, then we can expect our screens to be saturated by Sarita Stella making a boob out of herself.

Citations: The Age, 26/3/2007

Word Count: 936

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Here We Go Again ... Scandal Deepens

The blood-letting and shock revelations continue as the AFL's worst PR crisis shows no sign of abating. As more evidence of atrocious behaviour, cover-ups, hypocrisy and manipulation come to light there is a growing sense that the public is fed up and that the AFL must act to clean up the game. Here, we cover the latest allegations and evidence in the drugs scandal in what's been a huge week for footy.

After Ben Cousins was dumped by the West Coast Eagles, his dad Bryan Cousins admitted Ben has a serious drug problem. Cousins has been linked with cocaine and crystal methamphetamine ('ice'). However, current reports suggest that he is still in denial about the extent of his addiction that is allegedly costing him around $3000 per week. (This huge sum - over $150K a year - is still less than a fifth of his massive salary.)

Meanwhile, it seems our earlier praise for AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou's response to this issue may have been hasty. Former AFL investigator Rick Lewis alleges that he alerted the then operations manager to rumours and allegations around drug use at the Eagles in 2002, only to have all inquiries shut down. Demetriou - now earning a million bucks a year - flatly denies this. Covert police recordings then emerged on ABC's Lateline where West Coast's Daniel "Special K" Kerr is heard discussing drugs with convicted dealer Shane Waters. Also caught on tape was the Kangaroo's Aaron Edwards and basketballer James Harvey.

Certainly, allegations made by an anonymous ex-girlfriend of Kerr make sense now - his frequent disorientation and confused state was not due solely to his brain being damaged by the standard of conversation amongst his peers, but the debilitating effects of ketamine (a horse tranquiliser). While not caught on tape himself, Cousins was mentioned. It's unlikely any ketamine sourced by the players was used for amateur veterinary purposes.

The bad press kept right on rolling through the weekend. The Sunday Age has continued its expose into the murky underbelly of AFL's brightest stars with another piece by award-winning investigative journalist Andrew Rule. (Rule's heroic earlier piece broke the current media storm, strangely ignored by rival Herald-Sun.) This week's explosive article is mandatory reading and contains more startling allegations:

  • An unnamed former AFL player with a massive media profile has long been linked to cocaine use (his identity is an open secret, but will not be revealed here). He is part of a wider police investigation and will likely soon be charged or forced to give evidence.
  • He is part of a 'rat-pack' of big shots from the AFL, media and entertainment world who order thousands of dollars a week in coke from a well-known "dealer to the stars".
  • There is a hedonistic 'love boat' in operation:
    The multimillion-dollar pleasure craft is used for weekend cruises on the bay to which selected "guests" pay up to $5000 for unlimited cocaine and sex with escorts. Current and former AFL players and media "players" are believed to be among those who have used the boat.
  • With mud flying everywhere, the players' managers are starting to panic:
    The manager of one West Coast player was so concerned at rumours that he took the unusual step of contacting the The Sunday Age to say that if any story were published about his client without "stat decs [statutory declarations], video evidence and an affidavit from his mother" then he would sue for damages.
  • West Coast coach John Worsfold concedes that up to eight of his current players have admitted to drug use.
  • Collingwood president Eddie McGuire went on 3AW to send a dangerous mixed-message to players, urging them to take a break from recreational drugs until the heat blows over:
    "Don't be caught this weekend or any weekend going forward and if you're silly enough to still be on it for God's sake don't do it at the moment ..."
  • Convicted former lawyer Andrew Fraser (who spent five years in jail for his own cocaine habit) admits to snorting coke with AFL super-stars and asks (not unreasonably) "why are they a protected species?".
  • An amusing anecdote - with disturbing undertones - came to light in Spy about The AFL Footy Show:
    With the vexed question of footballers and drugs looming large, two of the top-rating show's stars almost came to blows, with one distinctly unimpressed by a jokey suggestion made during the show that the program's participants could submit to live drug tests on camera. "Never set me up like that again or I'll knock you out," was the not-so-friendly warning.
    Yikes! I wonder if the celebrity in question still had wobbly legs from an erotic nautical adventure?

We can be confident of more dirt and disgrace emerging in the coming weeks. While the current controversy is centred on the West Coast Eagles, it will no doubt spill over into other clubs. The sheer weight of evidence will simply make untenable the past strategy of the clubs and AFL leadership : "plausible deniability" is dead.

Taking a cue from the Howard Government's AWB playbook, this strategy entails sticking to the line "we only heard rumours, nothing concrete" ... while ensuring that nothing concrete could ever turn up by closing down investigations (if police officer Rick Lewis is to be believed, at least) and fighting tooth-and-nail to keep drug use under wraps.

This is not going to wash with the public anymore. Right now, even many apologists and excuse-makers are shocked at this widespread, persistent behaviour from their idolised heroes. But slowly, people will realise all this debauchery is being paid for by their club memberships, pay-TV subscriptions and match tickets. Once this realisation kicks in and cashflow threatened, the AFL executive will be forced to re-examine its deliberately lenient drugs policy and the efficacy of its testing regime. Allegations of masking agents, manuals for avoiding detection, "test-free days" etc will all be looked at.

It will be painful as the public withdraws from its rose-coloured glasses and ugly reality seeps in, but we can all look forwards to a cleaner, safer game.

*** UPDATE ***

More startling allegations of drug abuse by an embittered ex-girlfriend - this time involving Big Cheese Sam Newman. Newman is a boat-owning media "personality" and hardy perennial who trades on his reputation as a bon vivant. He's also the alleged victim of a $100K fraud by an ex, Louisa Glenda Larkin:

[Her lawyer, Paul Holdenson, QC,] said that during her personal relationship with Newman she was introduced to the use of cocaine and ecstasy and later suffered a psychotic episode from her drug use.

Jeffrey Cummins, a forensic psychologist who has been treating Larkin, told the court that Larkin told him she had used drugs sporadically before she met Newman in 1999.

"As a result of being in that relationship she was exposed to excessive drug use ... she became addicted to cocaine," he said. (The Age, 8/11/2007)

Not a good look. But, that's how the other half lives, I guess.

Word Count: 1085

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Eagles Kissing Cousins Good Bye

The West Coast Eagles has parted ways with troubled young star Ben Cousins indefinitely after the notorious party kid failed to attend training yesterday. He was also drug tested after further evidence of his lifestyle came to light on the weekend. His suspension for breaching team rules means he will not be able to play or train with the Eagles or their WAFL club East Fremantle. His club has indicated it is unlikely he'll be able to return for some time as he sorts out personal issues in his life.

In the end, the shock announcement this afternoon (Tuesday, 20th of March) was hardly a shock at all: after the build up of public incidents, bad press and disturbing stories, it was clearly just a matter of time before the Cousins' issues would come to a head. After all, it was just last year that his sidekick and co-conspirator Michael Gardiner threw away his career in spectacular fashion. It seems fitting and appropriate that Ben Cousins - whose flame always shone that bit brighter - would be able to hang on for an extra half season. Certainly Gardiner gave the sincere impression of genuinely not giving a shit about himself or his team, whereas with young Benny Boy it was more a case of "see what I can get away with".

Chief Apologist at the WCE, Dalton Gooding, finally got sick of the excuses and announced the axe had fallen. In the context of the string of public disgraces noted by The Age against Cousins, it seemed inevitable:

In fact, new accounts had come to light over the weekend regarding that last incident. At the time, the club was keen to spin this as public drunkenness. However, a follow-up story by investigative journalist Andrew Rule has thrown another light on the incident with a damning eye witness report:
It happened a little after 2 am on Saturday December 2, when the good Samaritan stopped at a traffic light near the casino and saw a young man standing in the street, "shivering".

"I asked him if he was all right and he walked towards the car and I realised it was Ben Cousins," he told The Sunday Age yesterday.

Cousins is renowned for being able to run all day — and a long way at night to avoid a booze bus — but this time the iron man of the midfield could hardly move.

Cousins was so "out of it", the social soccer player — and Rules fan — later told friends, that he offered him a lift to get him off the street for fear he would be run over. Cousins waved a $50 note and mumbled that he wanted to go "back to" Eve nightclub, a few hundred metres away, and threw himself into the back seat of the car.

The 30-year-old driver, who does not want to be identified, says he was shocked and concerned at Cousins' distressed condition. "He was sweating and paranoid. He had his hands over his face and was looking around as if he was frightened someone was chasing him. He said someone had hit him — he pulled up his shirt and showed me his stomach. He was jumping all over the back seat. I think I can tell the difference between being drunk and drugs and I'd say he was tripping out bad — his brain was fried on some hard-core stuff, I'd say."

Cousins was aware of his condition and concerned about being recognised, the driver said. "I had a girl with me who didn't recognise him until I said his name and then he said, 'No, no. It's not me!' He stayed in the car about five minutes, talking. I really gave it to him. I said, 'What are you doing, ruining your career, mate?' And he said, 'No drugs, no drugs, I don't want that.' "

The driver took him to the nightclub from where, Cousins had claimed, he had been "chased" earlier. "I don't know if someone really chased him or not," he said. When the driver politely refused his offer of payment, Cousins thrust a $10 note at him, got out and walked unsteadily towards the casino.

That was the last the driver saw of him until a photograph of his famous passenger appeared in the newspapers two days later. Someone had caught Cousins "asleep" on the ground near the casino before the police came and locked him up for four hours. (The Age, 18/3/2007)

The exact sequence of events is unclear at this stage: did this story break, then the drugs test was ordered, then the failure to attend training, and then the announcement of suspension? Or did the story directly trigger the suspension, and the announcement and dropping from training happened as a result? These questions get to the heart about how the club has "managed" Cousins' dangerous game.

This whole ordeal is very sordid. Cousins thought he could have it all. His club tried to protect him for a long time. Then it all unraveled. The only positive to come out of it is that good Samaritan who tried to help out a sporting celebrity in his addled state and then sat on the story for three months.

What a shame the only time Cousins gets frank feedback on his life is when he's out of his gourd. Perhaps if he'd got those messages while be able to grasp and remember them, his career might have ended differently.

*** Update ***

After being booted from the team, elements of the media reported that Cousins went on a bender ("partying spree") for several days. More reports circulated that he was in denial about his drug addiction, apparently to crystal meth. These reports of Ben's denial were denied by his father Bryan, opening the possibility that the entire Cousins clan is in denial. Or not. It's hard to make sense from this even without being left drug-addled by a raging ice addiction.

What is certain is that Ben Cousins is now in rehab in Malibu and Eddie McGuire is still giving commentary and advice for reasons best known to himself.

The AFL offered to pay for Cousins to go on a charter flight, presumably so he could withdraw in private. (Sure, with $800K a year you might think he could make his own way to rehabilitation, but then you wouldn't know much about how footy works.) In the end, he went economy class on a commercial flight - upgraded to business class, of course. Can't have a man of his standing mixing with the riff-raff.

While no-one can say for sure what will happen, here's hoping Cousins gets well, apologises and lobbies to reform the AFL drugs policy.

*** UPDATE ***

Ben Cousins is back from rehab in the US and has spoken to the public. His carefully-scripted set piece was read from an auto-cue and goes for about one minute. Here's a partial transcript; click the link for the full transcript of his "apology":
As you are aware I have been at an overseas rehabilitation centre for the past month undergoing treatment for a number of personal issues, including illness as the result of substance use.


I would like everyone, if they can, to respect my privacy whilst I continue treatment and meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. (AFL, 4/5/7)

His apology is a little light on details, but then, he has to ensure that he doesn't cause too much scrutiny of his behaviour, or that of his club - or indeed the entire failed AFL drugs policy.

Citations: The Age, 18/3/2007; AFL, 4/5/7

Word Count: 1350

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sordid AFL Drug Culture Exposed

An incendiary article in The Sunday Age by investigative journalist Andrew Rule has blown the doors of the hypocrisy and cover-ups surrounding the AFL's illicit drug culture. In the ensuing mad scramble for positioning, more details have leaked out and the ability of clubs and the league itself to deal with this issue looks very shaky.

You can imagine the scene: thousands of mouth-breathing footy fans across Melbourne settle in one Sunday morning to read our premier tabloid, slowly sound out each words. Expecting to catch up on the latest important news about groin injuries and club gossip, instead they are confronted with this horrible headline: Drug abuse, shady dealings rampant among football's finest. Then they skip to the last line of the article: "You haven't lived until you've had a beauty queen snort coke off your dick".

"Ah", they eventually surmise, "this is why we've had to buy Foxtel, endure emotional blackmail about club memberships and choose between getting our kids into private school or the MCG ... so our beloved faultless footballers can snort, pop, drop, smoke and hit up with impunity." After some furrowing of the brow, the verdict came back from the heartland: "We are not well impressed."

If you haven't already read the article - and if you're reading this blog I can't see how you could not - then I strongly recommend checking it out. Andrew Rule has put together a solid piece of research highlighting how the drugs issue ties in with underworld links, off-field violence and other criminality. Importantly, he also shows up the impotence - even reluctance - of clubs to deal with this while their players are kicking goals on the field.

Many of the issues raised by Andrew Rule have been covered here before. The "news story" concerned allegations about a player "flatlining" (ie overdosing) in Las Vegas on a private trip late last year. This was an open secret in footy circles, and the player was later revealed to be Chad Fletcher from (where else?) the West Coast Eagles. His manager, Colin Young, maintains that his three days in hospital were a result of alcohol and a yellow fever vaccination. Given Young's bluster about lawyers and suits right now, I'll leave it up to the big newspapers to take that one on.

Other tidbits covered included:

  • Steve Johnson - assault in Wangaratta.

  • Brendan Fevola - assault in Ireland.

  • Daniel Kerr - multiple assaults in Perth. He asked one (now former) girlfriend to pick him up at a party. His blackouts are so bad he allegedly said "Who are you? Are you my lift?". Scary stuff.

  • "The Cocaine Kid" - Should be obvious who, but no names please! Quote: "Girls I know used to go around to his house and he would be snorting coke off the coffee table".

  • West Coast Eagles - One cocaine-using player told [a club official] more than half the team were "into it". Worse, at least two club stars were "into the super, whizzbang stuff" so heavily that their supplier gives them other drugs to mask the effects of post-game binges. Oh dear. How effective is the masking agent? How reliable really are these drug tests?

  • Laurence Angwin and Karl Norman - busted for turning up to training while still pinging from ecstasy. "There would have been eight blokes (Carlton players) there that day who wouldn't have passed a test. Five out of the nine in the leadership group couldn't make eye contact with us when they called us in because they'd been out with us," [Angwin] said.

  • Unnamed Crows Star - "[A respected former coach] tells the story of a Crows star (with reputed shady connections) taking a fishing tackle box on a team trip. Inside were not hooks and sinkers, just dozens of brightly coloured pills. Drugs."
The reaction from the football establishment has been predictable. As mentioned, there's been denial. There's also been tut-tut noises from the coaches and club officials. The only person who's giving a credible performance on this issue is Andrew Demetriou:
"We don't necessarily respond to innuendo and inference," he said.

"If anyone's got any information that relates to an incident in Las Vegas or wherever, they should come forward and they should name names and they should tell us what they know.

"If we think it's of a serious nature we'll act upon it." (FoxSports, 14/3/2007)
I hope this isn't just spin and that Andy is genuinely keen to take - and act on - such tips. Please, feel free to publish your sordid "I did coke with a footballer" stories here. However, names and other legally actionable details will be removed. If you're prepared to tip off the league then get in touch with them directly. I've checked, and there's no hotline as such, but you can go through reception (03) 9643 1999. For email, there is Adrian Anderson's personal assistant - I won't publish her details here due to spam. But you can get in touch with me via email and I will pass them on.

That there's intense, widespread and chronic drug abuse in the ranks of the AFL is not disputed. The Speccy has previously cast doubt on the reliability of testing with just 24 positives out of 500 test! Now there's talk by players of "masking agents", providing one possible explanation for the absurdly low positive rates. We'll wait to see what the latest results have in store.

If the AFL is serious about cracking down on illicit drug abuse they would introduce tougher testing and reporting policies. No more "three strikes and you're outed" bullshit. Hopefully this latest burst of bad publicity will give Demetriou the ammo to stare down the AFL Players Association and implement a policy that will clean up the industry, not protect AFL drug-users who rip of their fans.

Citations: FoxSports, 14/3/2007

Word Count: 1031

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

End of Season 2006 - The Wrap

With the AFL 2007 season about to kick off, it's time to wrap up 2006. By our reckoning, there was nearly one disturbing footballer incident a week in a year characterised by drugs, booze and assaults. Still, that's probably better than the awful rape frenzy of 2003/2004.

The notable absence of public rape scandals didn't mean that all was peachy for our footballers in the romance department. Instead, we saw some spectacular break-ups and court appearances over soured love. First there was the alleged knife attack by Ashley Sampi. Then there was Alan Didak publicly flaunting his anger management issues with his then-girlfriend, glamazon model Cassie Lane. Not to mention the ugly public nuptials of Colin Sylvia and Elise Whichello, which ended up in court with intervention orders and allegations of death threats against a concerned passerby. Not to be outdone, yesterday's hero Wayne Carey was accused of domestic violence against his model girlfriend Kate Neilson by The Herald-Sun. And Essendon's Andrew Lovett tried to re-capture the lost passion ... by (allegedly) taking hostage soon-to-be-ex Kimberlie Watson. Again, more court appearances and intervention orders followed. While time and space doesn't allow us to comment on all footballer infidelity, Wayne Carey's cheating on his pregnant wife - again - does deserve special mention. So who'd be a footballers wife? (Or girlfriend?) Especially with hot teenaged models (*cough* Lara Bingle *cough*) coming onto their men on telly. Certainly Alex Fevola must be regretting getting into bed with philanderer Brendan Fevola (both literally and in terms of their restaurant joint venture).

Speaking of joints, the big news of the year was the ongoing footy drug scandal. In a nutshell, the AFL players' union forced a deal on the AFL whereby players can only be named for taking drugs after they're caught the third time. The names of three players - who were caught twice - were leaked to parts of the media and published. (A larger group has been caught once but their identities remained under wraps.) An injunction stopping the public discussing this issue was taken out. Then a court case ensued, with newspapers on one side and the footy establishment on the other. Despite arguments about free speech, public interest and the fact the names were already published, the courts found in favour of the footballers. A permanent injunction is now in force and anyone who publishes the names of the players will be drawn and quartered. The contrast with other sports (and the AFL's stance on player gambling) could not be any more exquisitely hypocritical.

Still, there's no doubt that things have tightened up a bit on the drug-taking front. Of course, the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in and - as predicted - the problems with booze have escalated as footballers try to manage their withdrawal from the harder drugs. 2006 saw a spate of alcohol-fuelled bashings and violence: death threats at 11am from Simon Goodwin and friends; Chris Tarrant and Ben Johnson in a late-night car park assault; sexual harassment and pub brawling in St. Kilda from Fraser Gehrig, Michael Voss, Simon Black and the lesser-known Steve Lawrence and Craig McCrae; international disgrace from Brendan Fevola over attacking Irish pub staff; more fighting in pubs with Sam Mitchell, then Jeff Farmer and Steven Dodd, then Andrew Krakouer hospitalised a teenager before attacking a taxi driver; Geelong's Steve Johnson was arrested for assault in Wangaratta. Heath Scotland - not shy about hitting women - allegedly punched another woman, this time in Ballarat. The other allegation of footballer-on-woman assault (yes, Brodie Holland) is slowly wending its way through the courts. It's been set back so often I wouldn't hold your breath. Sheesh, even revered Michael Long was up on pub-related assault charges! No wonder the ugly brutalism of AFL culture is seeping out and infecting the wider Australian society, as shown by last year's anti-Semitic attacks by amateur footballers.

Drunkenness doesn't have to manifest itself in direct violence - plenty of footballers have done their bit to threaten our well-being just by getting behind the wheels of their bogan wagons. Players like Michael Gardiner, Chad Morrison and Brad Ottens. Ignoring road rules (hey, they're for other people to obey, not footy stars) comes naturally to these bloody idiots. Just ask Ben Cousins, Mark Williams, Corey McKernan or Brodie Holland.

Of course, not all footballers need to be drunk to throw their weight around. Giant two-metre tall Dean Brogan shocked the nation when he punched out a teenager at Adelaide Airport while apparently stone-cold sober. Footy players also took to using their union to intimidate and threaten people with lawyers. Individual players, like Chris Tarrant, will get their managers and PR flaks to do the threatening for them. Hell, even the AFL executive isn't above dishing out a spray to media commentators, fans of other football codes or just about anything they don't like.

It's not surprising that the AFL executive, union and sponsors have kept quiet about our legal system. The way our courts are sentencing AFL players at the moment they've got nothing to complain about. Our courts were clogged with footballers last year, with the AFL Division of the Melbourne Magistrates Court barely able to keep up. In addition to the dozens mentioned above, we had Campbell Brown let off without serious penalty, tax avoidance charges for Dipper and Matthew Campbell and fraud and dishonesty charges for David Dench and Peter Grahame Hall. But most serious was the staggering kid-gloves treatment for Kade Carey, Dane Swan and Aaron Ramsay for a series of vicious assaults at Federation Square that left several hospitalised.

Despite dozens of appearances before the courts, it was all delayed justice, suspended sentences, paltry fines and minor inconvenience. Hell, Collingwood had four current and former players in court in just one month last year! The only sensible reaction to this broad swathe of lawlessness was to start up betting on which club would next see a player in court. Despite getting zero support from our politicians for the idea and no commercial backing, we persevered and were able to get a play-money version up and running. Congratulations to Mazda for a great win.

Just reading over this summary of offensive lawlessness and disgrace, we wonder how anyone associated with the AFL (or Aussie Rules in general) can defend this pack of wankers. What are we talking about here? A few hundred young men with all the fame and money in the world and they lounge about playing X-Box, gamble away their future and engage in unlawful and immoral behaviour at a rate that should sicken the rest of us. But it doesn't. Australia has collectively placed its head up its arse when it comes to a clear-eyed assessment of these dickheads who, for many, can do no wrong. The disturbing Footy Chicks documentary highlighted just how far the culture of hero worship has set in.

What can we do? Well, for starters you can arm yourself with the latest in protection at the Speccy Shop (we offer a range of equipment to protect against footballer threat). You can try to be aware of the presence of footballers when you're out on the town. But, mostly, you can try to change attitudes. The next time you hear someone excusing the latest footy scandal or criminality, challenge them on it. Why do we tolerate behaviour in these idiots - just because they have natural talent? No, we get the footballers we deserve and it's up to us to drive the standards higher.

Word Count: 1364

Tags: footy

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