Clubs in legal minefield on drugs: Port

PORT Adelaide president David Koch fears clubs will be open to legal reprisal unless there is a major change to the AFL’s illicit drugs policy.

Koch said the Power board had discussed the issue at length on Friday and had taken legal advice. He said it was imperative the AFL’s drugs and welfare summit, to be held at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, resolved to change the rules to allow club officials other than the team doctor to know if a player had tested positive on his first or second strike.

As it stands, club administrators find out about a positive test only in the event of a third strike.

Koch, who took charge of Port Adelaide in October, fears a player or his family could launch legal action if a drug problem morphs into something worse.

”Our view is that we would prefer a tougher line … we have a duty of care to our players, like all employers do,” Koch told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.

”For us, not to be informed of a potential issue until a third strike, we think goes against our duty of care. Something needs to be done about it or that duty of care … needs to be transferred to the AFL.

”They must sign off on it legally and absolve all the clubs of that duty of care. You can’t say, ‘Sorry, we didn’t know about it because somebody else told us we are not entitled to that information’. That’s my issue.”

The way the system is set up, a third strike is unlikely to occur, as a player enters rehabilitation or treatment after a second positive test. That player is then tested outside of AFL jurisdiction. If he fails a test, it does not count as a third strike.

Only when the player is cleared to resume club duties could he again test positive. But this would have to be within four years of his first strike, as results are voided after this period.

”I just think it can be done a whole lot better and needs to be done a whole lot better,” Koch said.

He said Port Adelaide was open to finding out after a first or second strike.

”We are prepared to discuss it or talk it through, but there is a real legal responsibility, apart from a moral responsibility, that you have got to be on top of every issue. If somebody else knows, then you have got to know,” he said.

The current system is based more on education and preventative measures, rather than punishing offenders, and has been a relative success. Six players tested positive in 2011, with last year’s results due out in a few months.

Players have been split on what, if any, changes should be made to the policy. AFL Players Association representatives Jimmy Bartel and Drew Petrie want the three strikes system to remain.

AFLPA player welfare manager Ian Prendergast says he is keen to discuss several aspects at the summit, including the possible need to close the loophole allowing players to self-report in order to avoid a test and a possible positive strike. Players, particularly from one club, have used this tactic.

Bartel said hair testing would be a discussion point. Hair testing is used to test for illicit drugs during the off-season but these do not count as strikes. Rather, they are used as a guide to which players should be target tested through urine tests in the season proper.

Another issue for discussion is lengthening the off-season period to help avert what Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert has labelled as ”volcanic behaviour”

The need for greater work-life balance has long been a point of debate among players and clubs, with a set day off now part of the collective bargaining agreement.

”You don’t want them to become monks, but an issue, I think, is how we expect them to lead an almost monastic life,” Koch said.

”But they are young men. Yes, they are well paid; yes, they are elite athletes; yes, they are role models; yes, they have a responsibility probably greater than their peers in other jobs, and you have got to have fun.

”But drugs is not the way to have fun by any stretch of the imagination. They have got to have the ability to let off steam and enjoy their life, and maybe the system is so pressured that [it] might have added to the drugs problem.”

Koch said the Power had conducted an anonymous survey of all players, staff and board in December as part of its submission to the league.

”People could say what they wanted. It found there are drugs in every playing group – every organisation in Australia would have drugs in their group,” he said.

”Ours wasn’t by any means out of control.”

Port Adelaide last year dealt with the death of player John McCarthy on an end-of-season trip to Las Vegas. McCarthy had been drinking heavily and reportedly was offered drugs before falling to his death.

Koch said any change to the illicit drugs policy would be enforced in all areas of the club.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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