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Sunday, September 30, 2007

One Day In Septopia

After months of nervous anticipation, the last Saturday in September (re-badged by AFL publicists as "Septopia", a contraction of "septic" and "myopia") finally saw a resolution of the big question: who was going to win the much-coveted Douglas Wilkie Medal in 2007?

The Medal is named after the long-serving journalist, foreign correspondent and columnist and is awarded by the Anti-Football League to "those who do the least for Australian rules football, in the best and fairest manner".

The Anti-Football League was formed by journalist Keith Dunstan in 1967 and revived by his grandson Jack Dunstan in 2007. From their website:

The Anti-Football League (AFL) is an Australian organisation of individuals who are indifferent to the excessive fervour that afflicts supporters of the Australian code of football known as Australian Rules Football (”Aussie Rules”).

The AFL stands apart from the Football mania that is ever increasingly saturating our workplaces, media outlets and public spaces, and which at certain times of the year reaches excessive and epidemic proportions. (AFL Website, 30/9/2007)

This year, the Medal was awarded to Dr Barry Jones, Renaissance Man and public intellectual, for admitting to reading books while attending footy matches. The runners-up this year were political football David Hicks, chemical enthusiast Ben Cousins, film critic David Stratton, Canberra journo Emma Macdonald and me (for this blog).

Congratulations to Dr Jones for joining the illustrious ranks of recipients, including Peter Russell-Clarke, Terry Lane, Wendy Harmer and Barry Humphries.

I would also like to thank the Anti-Football League for the honourable mention and wish a hearty well done to my fellow runners-up.

Lastly, my special thanks to Geelong's David Johnson, whose drunken antics on Thursday over-shadowed the Cats' Grand Final win on Saturday. (While he's not presently on the seniors list, he represented Geelong at the VFL Grand Final the weekend before and has played 12 AFL games earlier in the season.)

Police say they had to use capsicum spray to subdue 25-year-old David Johnson after he attempted to run away from police in Moorabool Street just after 4:00am.

Johnson has been taken to the Geelong police station for questioning over the assault of two men and a woman outside a nightclub.

Earlier in the night he was thrown out of a nightclub and given a lift home by police. (ABC, 28/9/2007)

Cat In Sore Need of Trip to Vet
Source: Geelong Advertiser.

After getting his special police taxi service - a role the police have happily undertaken in the past for AFL players - he was warned not to return to the nightclub district. Generous? Lenient? Inviting trouble? Geelong's police have a reputation for using kid gloves on their favoured sons when they engage in this kind of thing.

Underscoring why a blog such as this is necessary, the AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou downplayed the severity of the alleged criminality by dismissing it as "silly". He's facing allegations of multiple drunken assaults - including against a woman - and charges like resisting arrest (requiring the use of capsicum spray and batons) and we're told it's just "silly"? Yep, that's the AFL for you.

Citations: AFL Website, 30/9/2007; ABC, 28/9/2007

Word Count: 541

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mixed Messages From Drug Lobby

An act of bravado or merely desperation? We're not sure, but the new AAA lobby set up to limit scrutiny of professional athletes' illicit drug use gets full marks for chutzpah. The question is whether the Australian public will swallow it.

The Australian Athletes Association ("Triple-A" as they want to be known) is a potent lobbying group comprising players' association from the AFL, Rugby Union and Rugby Leage, as well as soccer, netball, cricket and swimming. While it's been an informal lobby for some eight or nine years, they're now an incorporated body representing some 2000 of the highest-paid and most-privileged people in the country.

However, like a traditional union "peak body", its role is to bring maximum pressure to bear on decision-makers (via the public) to advance the interests of its members. It's taken two actions to date, both centred on ensuring that drug-use by professional athletes goes unscrutinised.

Firstly, they've called for special athlete-only laws that use the full weight of legislation to punish people who "do not do enough" to preserve athlete's privacy:

"Legislative protections should be introduced to penalise persons or organisations in breach of security protocols protecting athletes' records or seek to publish the same," the group said. (The Age, 20/9/2007)

Remember, this is above and beyond the existing rules and regulations that apply to everyone else. This somewhat unusual demand of enshrining their privacy rights in law - to the exclusion of any other considerations - highlights the fundamentally selfish stance of this pressure group.

The second action was a bit more predictable. Someone new to this issue might assume a peak lobby group would co-ordinate a uniform code across the various sports. But no, that might lead to increased scrutiny, more detections, more exclusions and, ultimately, less drug-taking. Instead, they're pushing hard for a "whatever you can get away with" policy:

The AAA held its first media conference on Wednesday to announce an eight-point policy on illicit drugs in sport.

It strongly argues that each sport should be allowed to formulate its own illicit policy.


The Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) is negotiating an illicit policy with Cricket Australia.

"Our view is that there's been too much made of the whole two- versus three-strike approach, this is about getting the right welfare model in place for our players," said ACA chief executive Paul Marsh.

AFLPA chief executive Brendon Gale and his NRL counterpart Matt Rodwell said they supported the other sport's illicit drugs policy.

"The different deterrents in each policy is respective to their own sport and I'm not here to judge the AFL, I'm supportive of their action," Rodwell said.

Underlining the differences between sports, Australian Swimmers' Association Regan Sterry said an illicit drugs policy for swimming would focus on education, not testing. (The Age, 19/9/2007)

The sight of Rodwell and Gale slapping each other on the back for their divergent drug policies is certainly bizarre. But what else could they say? "Well done, Brendon, on getting that one past your gormless fans. I can't believe they bought that! I only wish our mugs were as dumb." Hardly.

What they're not keen to dwell on is that there are at least three - possibly five or more - AFL footballers who are continuing to play without sanction when, under the NRL policy, they would be named, shamed and banned. The idea that "cultural complexities" between the AFL and NRL justify this inconsistency is a slap in the face to thinking people everywhere.

Sure, lots of unions demand the outrageous; they fight their corner and these ambit claims all part of the public debate. But why anyone would listen to a bunch of millionaires demanding ill-conceived, uncoordinated and selfish special privileges with the effect of protecting their ability to consume illicit drugs risk-free is a mystery.

I suppose the real tragedy isn't that they ask, it's that our sports-mad and hero-worshipping public will let them get away with it.

*** UPDATE ***

As we go to air tonight, a drugs scandal is breaking on the interwebs. Hotbed of rumour and innuendo, Big Footy, hosted a thread where posters alleged that a third strike had been recorded against a player from the Unnamed Melbourne Club at the centre of the Channel Seven/AFL stoush.

I have to tread very carefully here, but here goes:

Three weeks ago, Channel 7 reported that two players from the club were on two strikes, with a number of others on one strike. The 2006 court injunction prevents the naming of three players on two strikes from 2005. The 2007 court injunction prevents the naming of the Unnamed Melbourne Club or its players. The AFL claims no one was pinged for a second strike in 2006. This means the pair of two-strikers at this club achieved this dubious honour in 2007. If the latest allegations of a third strike are true, someone at this club got pinged twice this year.

When you consider the extraordinarily and wilfully sloppy testing regime (replete with tip-offs of "random" testing, players declining to provide a sample, many players going years without a test etc) then the chances of getting picked up twice in a few months suggests some pretty bloody intensive drug use. That is, if it happened at all. We're not allowed to know. Free press? Nah. Just shut up and pay up.

Big Footy, under legal threat, has removed the thread. Others online are not so easily cowed nor prepared to turn the other cheek. (No links here, I'm afraid. Keep searching.) My understanding is that on the third strike, the player must be named. (Yes, even under the AFL's policy it will happen eventually.) However, I'm not sure what the timing is on this and I imagine officials would try to delay this until after the Grand Final, for publicity reasons.

Naturally, we'll follow this closely. If you want updates, subscribe with your newsreader (RSS) or use the email subscription box on the lower right.

Citations: The Age, 20/9/2007; The Age, 19/9/2007;

Word Count: 1030

Tags: footy, drugs

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Demons Lose First International Brawl

The traditional end-of-season International Pub Brawl Tour is not going well for Australia as this year's representatives - the Melbourne Demons - suffer a loss to the Swedes in host country Greece.

Despite automatic qualification - thanks to Brendan Fevola's heroic performance in Ireland last year - the Demons confirmed the suspicions of many that they were simply unprepared and unmotivated.

Selectors copped flak for the decision to send an undermanned Demons in to represent Aussie Rules on the tour, given star kicker Colin Sylvia was busy with photo shoots for a man-oriented erotic calendar.

Most commentators favoured sending the Fremantle Dockers, given the recent form of Chris Tarrant and Jeff Farmer. Freo demonstrated their capacity for brawling in Darwin earlier this year, considered by many the toughest venue in the domestic competition.

The AFL's other claimants to pub brawl representative status - the Brisbane Lions - were hampered in their selection by retirements and ongoing legal problems, despite their proven track record for overseas biffo.

The weaker Demons were soundly thrashed by visiting Swedes during the Greek leg of their three week tour. The AFL is not happy with this performance and has called them in for a "please explain":

Three Melbourne players - Nathan Carroll, Brock McLean and Jared Rivers - will be asked to explain their actions to the AFL club after becoming involved in a fight at a Greek nightclub.

[ ... ]

[Club chairman Paul] Gardner said he did not have full details of the incident, but had been told the three players were unhurt.

"We were very concerned with a lot of the rumours to have floated around first thing this morning," he said. (The Age, 14/9/2007)

While its unclear if the AFL is allowed to swap in a new club at this late stage, it's believed that Demons, at least, are convinced that they will continue to carry the flag for Australia for the remainder of the tour. Chairman Paul Gardner confidently stated "[W]e're pleased to report that they're all well, in fact all on their way now to Croatia."

In Croatia, Australia is scheduled to confront the Germans in a pitched battle over the reservation of deckchairs at a resort on the Dalmatian Coast. Success in this round is crucial if Australia is to avoid elimination.

While much of the sporting world's attention is focused on the Rugby World Cup, the International Brawls Series is considered the pinnacle event of organised violence and a key platform for promoting the AFL to a wider audience.

*** UPDATE ***

Things are looking up for Australia in the International Brawl Tour, with the Demons making an impressive showing during the Oktoberfest leg of the Tour. Considered by many the "minor premiership" of the Tour, Oktoberfest sees the cream of the world's drunken louts and biff-artists congregate in a paddock for a knock-down, drag-out session of alcohol and violence.

The Demons are believed to have acquitted themselves well in the latest confrontation, although details are still sketchy. No doubt the players are hoping that their performance at Oktoberfest will go some way to allaying criticism following their humiliation at the hands of the Swedes during the Greek leg of the Tour.

The Nine Network tonight reported [Brock] McLean and [Nathan] Carroll were involved in a fight in Germany while attending Oktoberfest celebrations.

McLean, Carroll and teammate Jared Rivers were all involved in a fight at a nightclub on the Greek island of Ios earlier this month.

However, Melbourne could not confirm the latest incident, as a club spokeswoman said Demons officials were yet to speak to either McLean or Carroll.

"We're aware of the all the allegations," she said.

"But we have no other information yet.

"Until we have all the information we won't be making any comment."


Melbourne chairman Paul Gardner said after the Greek incident he would be seeking a full explanation from the players, but said the club was unlikely to impose any sanctions. (The Age, 24/9/2007)

And well done to Channel Nine for reporting the Tour; despite the Rugby World Cup and other programming conflicts, they've continued their coverage of this exciting new competition.

Citations: The Age, 14/9/2007

Word Count: 441

Tags: footy, bashing

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

New Footballer Testing Regime Soon?

One of the advantages of living so close to the MCG is finding interesting pieces of paper lying in nearby gutters. I'm not sure what to make of this, so being unbound by journalistic ethics, I thought it best to release the document into the public record and see what others make of it. Of course, I can't vouch for the source or veracity of the claims made and it's clearly just one page from what appears to be a draft media release or speech.

... an increasing problem facing not just footballers but the wider Australian community. The League, supported by the Players' Association, believes that we are in a position to take a strong leadership role on this issue.

We must recognise that this is not a discipline problem, but a medical issue. First and foremost must be the proper care and rehabilitation of players. In order to achieve this, we must guarantee the integrity of test results under doctor-patient confidentiality.

It's with this in mind that we are proud to jointly announce the new "three-strikes" obesity agreement, under which players voluntarily submit to skin-fold tests:

  • First abnormal result. The player and the League's medical officer will be informed.

  • Second abnormal result. The player and his club's medical officer will be informed. The player must enter counselling, group therapy and rehabilitation to deal with their underlying issues that cause them to over-eat in the first place .

  • Third abnormal result. The player's club is informed and the club may choose to suspend or fine the player under the Player Agreement. The player may choose to divulge the reason for any club action, or keep it confidential.

We've sought the best advice from health academics about how to deal with chronic over-eating and body perception issues. Experts from the Institute for the Morbidly Obese, Over-Eaters Anonymous and the International Centre for the Study of Gland Disorders confirm that publicly naming and shaming patients is counter-productive. This is because it may further damage their low self-esteem and add pressure, two of the principal causes of eating disorders.

With this in mind, responsibility for future skin-fold testing will be taken from the clubs and conducted by contractors for the League according to the agreed protocol:

  • There will be up to 500 tests per year, across the 650 players.

  • Players may decline to submit to a test without stating a reason.

  • Tests will be conducted both in and out of competition (except for two months at the end of season).

  • All measures will be used to preserve the confidentiality of test results, including police investigations, Supreme Court injunctions and player boycotts.

  • The testing schedule will remain as secret as practicable, given the close-knit football environment.

  • Target testing may be employed. However, anyone nominating a player may be sued for defamation or punished for bringing the game into disrepute.

Clearly, obesity is not just limited to footballers. All facets of society are afflicted with this terrible curse. While we recognise that footballers are role models - especially to young impressionable children - we cannot use this an excuse to ride roughshod over basic human rights.

This new agreement strikes a fair and reasonable balance between the medical privacy of footballers and their commitment to elite-level competitive sport. We are now the only League in the world to conduct ... (Papers in gutter, found 5/9/2007)

Well, it certainly seems that there could be some announcement soon, if this is anything to go by. If any other pages turn up, I'll be sure to post them here.

Word Count: 595

Tags: footy, media

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Mad Monday Threatens Melbourne

This is a warning to all Melburnians: today is the infamous Mad Monday, which means hundreds of drunk and drug-affected footballers will be roaming the streets in gangs. Many of them will be bitterly disappointed and violence seems inevitable.

Mad Monday has always been an interesting time in Melbourne. Now, it's positively dangerous. Given the large dose of negative scrutiny AFL players' drug habits have received recently, you'd think they might take it easy this year. After all, there's no sign of the Seven/AFL Gutter Feud settling. But that's not what people are thinking:

TODAY marks open season for drug users, AFL style.

Think about it for a moment, because it's a little bit scary.

This morning we kick off a two-month exclusion zone in which AFL players, in their off-season breaks, will not be tested for any form of illicit drug until pre-season training commences.

As of today's Mad Sunday sessions, 210 players from Richmond, St Kilda, Essendon, Brisbane and Fremantle will be free to take as many illicit drugs as they like, and not one of them will be tested.

From tomorrow, 125 from Melbourne, Carlton and the Bulldogs will join them.

The depressing reality is that in the current climate, the lure of drugs will be too much for some players to resist. (Herald-Sun, 2/9/2007)

Let's put those sobering remarks into context. Here's what Hawthorn great Dermot Brereton had to say about earlier Mad Monday festivities:

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, reported in The Speccy)

And, as is now a tradition at this time of the year, here is the photo of Eddie McGuire and friend very late indeed at one Mad Monday:

Eddie Not Faring As Well As Other Bloke
Source: Aftergrog Blog.

Of course, the image of drug-fuelled parties with pills and powders being thrown around like confetti is not the AFL's spin departments' idea of how Mad Monday should be perceived. They'd rather everyone just forgot about that and focused on the traditional, booze-soaked piss-ups instead. This is the official word from AFL HQ on the upcoming Mad Monday:

WELSH poet Dylan Thomas's famous dying words were, “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that is a record.” Dylan, you feel, would have enjoyed Mad Monday, the day when the AFL’s also-rans blow their tops like 44 kegs of beer that have done six months in the back of a ute, plus a hard pre-season. (AFL, 3/9/2007)

Yes, that's right, in a bizarre refutation of the Governments' responsible drinking message, the AFL is putting about quotes from Welsh poets who tragically drank themselves to death via media release. Is this to encourage players off the ice and onto whisky? ("Mmm, whisky - potentially fatal whisky. Do you remember how good it was?") Or is it to paint a vivid and unshakable image in the minds of the punters of utes, kegs and "piss, porn and pie" nights at the local footy club rooms? Well, nothing could be further from the truth for our manicured and well-coiffed salonistas.

Thanks to some diligent behind-the-scenes work, The Speccy is able to provide a hit-list of venues likely to attract footballers. Remember, these places will be over-charging you for drinks (to ensure the players sip water for free in the VIP room). They will also attract women (and a few misguided men) looking to pick up a footballer -if only in for ten minutes in the toilet. Large groups of men will be resentful of this and the risk of fights means it is not worth attending.

Please avoid the following suspected footballer haunts:

Ironically, the safest venue is town for the next couple of days might be Spearmint Rhino, the lap-dance club that served us starting point for Alan Didak's Hell Ride. After his little adventure, it's now one of the few places where Collingwood players are banned from attending.

In any case, please keep your head low. Stock up on essential products (like pepper spray and drink-spike detectors). Warn others. And - hopefully - we'll catch you on the other side.

*** UPDATE ***

It's been a slow Mad Monday. Either the players were unusually well-behaved or the venue operators and media have been gagged. After scouring the mainstream media and footy forums, this is the most salacious story I could turn up:

Hawthorn players Lance Franklin and Trent Croad were invited to MTV's Superbad movie premiere after-party, but didn't impress organisers with their attempts to get the entire team into South Yarra's Tryst bar.

The boozed-up bunch were turned away after hitting the nearby Bridie O'Reilly's pub on Chapel St for most of the day, as part of Mad Monday celebrations. (Herald-Sun, 19/9/2007)

Jeez. Even the West Coast Eagles are having a locked-down Mad Monday, with security guards in place. Chairman Dalton Gooding explains that "They’ve got plans and processes in place," and said they players would be "Very responsible, be very tight, stay among themselves and just show restraint."

Pretty bloody lame. C'mon, surely there was some ugliness somewhere?

*** UPDATE ***

Not necessarily ugly, but the Sunday Age reports that Hawthorn's Lance "Buddy" Franklin might be about to go vegetarian: at least, that's their explanation why Buddy was loudly stating "I'm off my chops!" at the Leederville Hotel in Perth. There's going to be a lot of disappointed Hawthorn fans if they're relying on this bloke for their tilt at the premiership.

Citations: Herald-Sun, 2/9/2007; AFL, 3/9/2007; Herald-Sun, 19/9/2007

Word Count: 1028

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