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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Guide To AFL Drug-Taking

With the draft upon us, we can expect to see a lot of fresh-faced youngsters hoping for their big break into the world of professional AFL footy. This world offers a lot of dangers as well as rewards. Right now, new recruits and their family worry about the impact of drugs on their careers. This article explains how to enjoy your drugs while minimising career risks with a handy online drug-use planner, for easy calculation.

The AFL - especially through the Players' Association - has gone to a lot of effort to keep those positive test results low and players' names stay out of the papers. Whether it's allowing a generous "three strikes", getting court injunctions (repeatedly), hounding blabber-mouths, whitewashing "mysterious" tip-offs or just ensuring that players are seldom tested, they'll leave no stone unturned protecting their precious players.

So it doesn't matter if you hang out with drug dealers or others with underworld connections. Many of the biggest names in the sport do. Just ask Michael Gardiner, Daniel Kerr, Alan Didak or Ben Cousins. It gives you street cred and cheap supplies and your employer will keep the heat off your back.

If you play AFL, then eventually - perhaps after several years - you will be asked to pee into the cup. You can always ask to be excused, on the grounds that you can't provide a sample. Sounds crazy, but hey - it's worked before! But failing that, there's a chance that you might provide a dirty sample. Uh oh. Not to worry - you've got two free kicks before there's serious ramifications. With a career expectancy of four years, you'll likely only be tested half a dozen times anyway.

As slight as it is, there's still a prospect of returning that dreaded positive result. The best way to manage this is to determine at the outset what level of risk you're comfortable with. What odds can you live with?

That's where the online drug planner comes in. Let's face it, if you've been recruited by the AFL you're not going to be a mathematical wizard. Hell, you likely stopped paying attention in Year Ten and relied on the PE staff to get you through senior school. So, if statistics and the like are all a bit hard, let The Speccy crunch the numbers and put it in terms a footballer will understand: gambling odds. (Yes, a lot of you young blokes like a flutter - and if you don't you will soon.)

It's simple. Think of it as career Russian roulette. Just select your preferred drug and how often you'd like to take it. Take a stab at your career length (be realistic: ten year stayers are very rare these days). Down at the bottom is the (decimal) odds of your drug use curtailing that career. It couldn't be easier!

AFL Drug Use Planner

Player Preferences

Type of Drug
Usage Frequency (days)
Career Length (years)

League Policies

Number of Tests (per annum)
Number of Players
Allowed Strikes (per player)


Detection Time (days)
"Dirty" Time (proportion)
Annual Test Rate (per player)
Expected Uses (per career)
Expected Tests (per career)
Expected Strikes (per career)


Probability of Detection (AFL)
Probability of Naming (public)
Odds of Naming (public)

For example, if you can only handle a 1% chance of being named and shamed, stick to taking your cocaine once a month. Take it weekly if you're comfortable with a one in four chance. Get it? Choose from cocaine, ice, speed, ecstasy, ketamine, Valium (for the come down), LSD (if you like "candy-flipping") and the other party favourites. Just dial up the frequency and away you go.

And thank your stars you're not playing in the NRL, where their two-strikes policy and higher test rates might put a real dampener on the party. Enjoy - and stay safe.

The Gory Details

The default figures are for the AFL's current policy of naming on the third strike and providing 1000 tests per year across 650 players. Until August, 2007 there were only 500 tests per year. By contrast the NRL has 1100 tests across 450 players, with just one strike allowed before public naming.

The model is based on the Poisson Process - the standard statistical approach to modelling random events across a period of time. First, it calculates the player's "dirty time". This is the percentage of his time that he spends "dirty" (ie returning a positive results if sampled). This is driven by the type of drug and how frequently it's taken. (Drug detectability times were taken from a public source.)

The next key statistic is the number of tests faced across the career. This is a function of the number of tests by the league per year, the number of players in the league and the number of years spent playing in the league.

Using the player's "dirty time" and invoking the PASTA principle (Poisson Arrivals See Time Averages), the arrive strike parameter is computed. Based on this the model works out the probability distribution (pmf) for a player getting a strike zero times, once, twice, three times and so on before the player's name goes public: that is, before the "allowed strikes" are all used up.

The model assumes constant testing and drug use rates. In practice, this is likely to vary throughout the year. For example, the six week test-free drug binge at the end of the year is not taken into account. Nor is "target testing", where risky players are selected. Should the AFL decide to make public the details of how this is done, the model can be updated.

For now, it is a useful rough guide based on public information. Your mileage may very, so please keep your usage conservative.

*** UPDATE ***

This footy drug-use calculator was used to calculate the statistics for my Crikey piece last week, A 1% chance: The stats on the AFL's farcical drug regime, arguing that the AFL's drugs policy is weaker than the NRL's: with fewer tests and more strikes, it offers much less deterrence.

Word Count: 1013

Tags: footy, drugs

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  • I rather like the calculator.

    Incidentally, can you refresh my memory again as to why we insist on out of competition drug testing? For some reason, I can't pin down the actual reason.

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 11:41 pm, November 19, 2007  

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  • I went into a bit more detail over at the bear pit a couple of months ago.

    Basically, it's to do with footballers' incomes being contingent on their role as public "identities" and role models, especially for children. Not all of them relish this, but it's a foreseeable and inevitable consequence of playing AFL at the elite level.

    So the use of illicit drugs - even during the off-season - is perhaps akin to getting shit-faced and driving a car: dangerous, illegal, not to be encouraged among the impressionable and carries negative social consequences. Even if it doesn't get detected, go public or result in a conviction.

    At a practical level, it's also medically dangerous for the footballer (though comparable to many other risks young men routinely take), commercially risky for the club and jeopardises the game's reputation.

    All in all, it's best for everyone if they keep off the gear. A proper and serious drug-testing regime with an effective protocol is, sadly, the only practicable way of ensuring this.

    While this formal process happens at the league level, I would hope that now club cultures will also change and we'll start to see some leadership on the attitude front.

    The day when a drug-using footballer is successfully sanctioned by his own peers at their own behest is the day when the AFL can claim to have the problem licked.

    By Blogger Greg, at 12:20 am, November 20, 2007  

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  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 1:11 pm, November 20, 2007  

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  • Disregarding the special (specious?) pleading for "public "identities" and role models" for a moment, were there any others?

    We'll disregard the "medically dangerous" one too - last time I checked, sportspeoples' biochemistry was the same as the rest of us.

    Were there any other reasons?

    And are there any other analogues to this? For example, do pilots and surgeons get drug tested on vacation?

    Just curious is all.

    By the way, a big congratulations for Crikey publishing your work. You should do a post trumpeting this, if only because some of your regular readers may not be aware.

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 1:12 pm, November 20, 2007  

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  • No, it's pretty much the "role model" argument coupled with the "letting down your co-workers and employer" argument.

    For in-comp testing, there are two others, addressed in the BigFooty link above.

    Another point to consider here though is that the AFL's drug testing regime is so hopelessly lax that without testing during the off-season there'd be no chance of detecting and deterring drug use.

    Keeping the players off drugs out of competition also stops them acquiring a taste for it (and the necessary contacts etc) for carrying on a drug habit during the competition.

    I'm not sure about other professions that are drug tested, such as pilots, police and some medical professionals, but I doubt it since they're not role models in the same way as footy stars.

    By Blogger Greg, at 3:05 pm, November 20, 2007  

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  • I notice in the news this morning that Paul Roos has unilaterally moved that the Swans adopt a 2 strikes policy.

    It would be interesting to see if any other clubs follow.

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 1:38 pm, November 27, 2007  

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  • Paul Roos might be interested in two-strikes, but he won't be allowed to go there.

    Why? Because the AFL struck a deal with the AFL Players' Association to ensure that AFL players were exposed to a low risk of detection for their drug-taking. The players aren't going to take on further risks without going back to the negotiating table and seeking compensation. Basically, clubs are going to have to pay players a lot more if it becomes harder for them to have a bit of charlie on the weekends.

    It's strange because the club is the employer. Usually, the club has a free hand to discipline members in any way it sees fit, whether it be for eating pies or kissing girls or breaking other team rules. (Seriously.)

    Drugs, though, are a big no-no: the one major disciplinary area where the clubs have very little control over. It's been hammered out at a higher level. So skin fold tests are fine, but drug tests are out.

    By Blogger Greg, at 12:58 am, November 28, 2007  

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  • I wonder about that. The Rudd government hasn't outlawed AWAs yet, so could an "unscrupulous" employer such as the Swans try to sneak this one through for all new employees? Or would the AFLPA retaliate and risk the bad press?

    By Blogger Dikkii, at 1:06 am, November 28, 2007  

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  • Despite the best efforts of the AFL players' union and the AFL's watered-down testing policies, it seems ten players managed to return a positive result.

    Of the ten, two were picked up twice, bringing the total double-counters up to seven.

    It was the usual stuff - stimulants, cannabis and "mixed".

    Those players must be feeling very, very unlucky that they strike out. They must take some consolation in the knowledge that it won't inconvenience them in any way.

    By Blogger Greg, at 5:25 pm, June 21, 2009  

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  • I seriously cannot understand why there is out of competition testing.
    Generic reasons given like "public figures", "role models", etc I just do not buy.

    By Blogger john_k, at 8:01 pm, February 02, 2011  

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