Latest drug issue not all black and white

Collingwood isn't the only club to have players test positive for illicit drugs. Photo: AAP Image.
Collingwood isn't the only club to have players test positive for illicit drugs. Photo: AAP Image.

IT'S the kind of season-opener we've come to expect.

Yes, there was that usual less-than-convincing round-one Richmond win over Carlton on a Thursday night.

But, more to the point, it was hijacked by another drug controversy.

We can, in some way, be fortunate the Essendon supplements saga hadn't found a way to rear its ugly head.

But, instead of the so-called performance-enhancing variety, it was the use of illicit substances in the spotlight, and it was Collingwood up to its neck in drama after it was reported 11 of its players had tested positive following the introduction of off-season hair-testing.

But, who do we, as fans just wanting to see some footy played without off-field garbage getting in the way - or footy scribes hoping to write about players' deeds on the field and not off it - blame for being dragged into another scandal?

Society for creating a drug culture AFL players clearly aren't immune to?

The pressures of being high-profile athletes in such a high-pressure competition, leading to them feeling a need to let their hair down during the summer?

The players themselves for losing sight of their "duty" as role models, and giving in to temptation?

Whoever leaked the results of the drug tests when they were supposed to remain anonymous?

Or, the media for conveniently breaking the news just an hour before the first bounce of season 2016?

All of the above, but particularly the players, who are all certainly made aware of the 'sacrifices' they may have to make when entering into such privileged positions for maybe four, eight, 16 years ... how ever long their careers last.

Of course the Magpies aren't alone. They are believed to be somewhere in the top three for drug use, with one club said to have returned as many as 20 positive tests.

The league pointed out the new hair-testing was agreed to by the AFL Players' Association, as part of a new Illicit Drugs Policy that includes: "increased intervention at all positive tests and stronger penalties, including suspensions on a second positive test".

But, ex-Magpie captain Nick Maxwell reckons the players are "having a laugh in the off-season ... they have their six or eight weeks and they know they can do what they want.

"The only result of that is when they get back and they're hair-tested they've got to sit down with the doctor.

"Either the AFL or AFLPA, who pride themselves on being leaders on these issues, have got to take a stance and understand they may lose a few along the way but for the betterment of the game they have to go hard and test four times a year, and really start penalising."

A further crackdown was backed by GWS Giants chief executive Dave Matthews, highlighting the fact the players wanted a pay rise in the next collective bargaining agreement.

"I wouldn't be negotiating … I'd be simply saying we're offering 800 jobs at $300,000 a year and here are the conditions of your employment," he said.

"Essentially what we are dealing with here is illegal activity … so we've got to go further in stamping it out."

It's fair enough - if the players want to clean up financially, they need to clean up their acts, for the game's well-being and for their own.

When speaking of the "volcanic behaviour" displayed by players back in 2012, Magpies chief executive Gary Pert said he didn't want to see another Ben Cousins or Gavin Crosisca, who came into "a football environment not being drug users and left addicted to illegal drugs".

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