Geelong and equalisation in their own words

Geelong Brian Cook

Geelong did a strange thing in the footy world today. They were honest.

While the AFL and Melbourne continued to spin around the “not tanking but fined and suspended” debacle, and Essendon briefed journos that ASADA turning up to tell players there was a loophole they might yet squeeze through as a “good thing”, Geelong addressed one of the most important issues in the game, that of the growing inequality between rich and poor clubs and how league addresses it, head on. And they did it publicly.

Early in the afternoon, Geelong put the following document, entitled Geelong Cats Response To AFL On Equalisation (attributed to CEO Brian Cook and President Colin Carter) on their website. Some hours later the AFL put their own take on it – Cats call for salary cap re-think. For mine this is a very disingenuous take (from the AFL? Heaven forfend!) because contained in the document are far more interesting and telling observations about the state of the modern football political economy than merely one of the recommendations towards the back.

In this light, I’ve picked out my top eight points from the Geelong response and added some of my own take on each one. My view is by no means right, it is not pretending to be anything other than opinion. The words that really count are those of Cook and Carter.

As well, from an ‘equalisation perspective’ we believe that the strategy was flawed. Allocating funds to the most wealthy clubs was unnecessary but, more importantly, fuelled football inflation and actually increased the spending gap between rich and poor clubs

Having issued the perfectly reasonable but eminently expected complaint that they got a raw deal from the Club Future Fund distribution, Cook and Carter leap straight for the jugular early on page one with this gem. And they are right.

You don’t close inequality by giving poor clubs $10 and then rich clubs $2 and then claiming that with their extra $10 the poor clubs are $10 better off than they were.

No, in reality the poor clubs are only $8 better off. And, as the Cats explain in detail, a rich club is able to multiply every dollar it gets far more effectively than a poor club, so the “benefit” is lessened even further. This for mine is the salient point of the whole document. Everything else leads from it.

We also say that ‘supporter base’ drives sponsorship because decision-makers in firms will be influenced by their club allegiances.

Another fascinating admission and one that bears the voice of experience. Essentially, they are saying that the more supporters you have, the more likelihood some of those supporters will, instead of making rational business decisions, actually spend company/business money with their hearts. We all know this is true at a fundamental level – look at Pratt and Carlton for but one example – but to see it laid out in black and white is refreshing.

We also accept that ‘fixture’ and ‘stadium returns’ are important influences on revenue potential. We welcome the AFL’s acknowledgement that smaller clubs are being disadvantaged because of the AFL strategy to maximise attendances and TV audiences.

Heartening. This view is just the whinging of “small clubs that won’t help themselves”, it is the simple reality of how footy is governed.

The financial gap between clubs is driven by the revenue raised by the richest teams. They set the cost benchmarks and smaller clubs go broke trying to keep up.

Again, shouldn’t be that difficult a concept to grasp but one that seems to elude so many. Seeing as the best administrator in the game has put his name to that sentiment, I think we can now accept it as gospel.

If variable pricing is introduced to selected ‘blockbuster’ games and the additional revenues shared with other teams and, in particular, allocated to smaller teams, the equalisation objectives would be met

WAHEY! Cooky waves the hammer and sickle, loads the AK and charges that great citadel of late capitalist footy theory, the ANZAC Day game. You want the ANZAC Day game and all the associated benefits it brings, then you have to share the benefits. They don’t go into enough detail here as to what “variable pricing” could entail, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where he is going. This would put your average Bomber fan in quite the pickle – would they still go to the ANZAC day game if they knew North or the Dogs were directly benefiting? Can they explain why other teams shouldn’t benefit if they are shut out of the time-slot?

Of course, good and bad management makes a difference but not enough to overcome entrenched inequalities. Even wealthy clubs have had periods of very bad management – but they can dig their way out of trouble because of the size of their supporter base.

In two short sentences, Cook and Carter “pwn” hundreds of big club supporting Internet trolls with the warhammer of decades of experience at the footy coalface.

There is little evidence that the relative size of supporter bases has moved much between clubs over the last 50 years. A few clubs may have lost a little ground after decades of poor performance and arguably only one club has gained due to a level of sustained on-field success 30 years ago that cannot be repeated.

Another fascinating point from the Cat hierarchy. I’m not sure how much I agree with this: surely the club they refer to is Hawthorn and I dispute that cannot be repeated. North’s surging membership numbers, which should take it into the middle bracket of Melbourne teams membership wise in the next two years, can clearly be traced back to the Carey Generation coming of age. Still, it is a point well made and one worth bearing in mind.

There is even evidence that some smaller clubs have done a relatively better job than some of the larger clubs – such as converting a higher proportion of their supporters to members and often getting a higher yield per member. As well, some of the smaller clubs have achieved better win/loss records over the recent decades than have some of the stronger clubs and it isn’t plausible to argue that they can do this consistently with inferior management.

Again, stating the obvious, but gratifying to see the point made by a footy luminary like Cook.

There’s a huge amount in the document that I haven’t picked up here, especially as regards the salary cap and stadium deals. I encourage everybody to read the document in full. It is as good an education into how footy is arranged right now as you will ever get.

I’m also unsure as to why the Cats chose to release their response publicly. Maybe they are just trying to prove a point about how a very well run sporting organisation manages its affairs?


The Melbourne tanking verdict: worst of all worlds

AFL tanking investigation result

Just when you thought the AFL couldn’t get any better, or more accurately, worse, they manage to outdo themselves yet again.

The official verdict from on high is that Melbourne didn’t tank.  But they have been fined $500,000, and former Melbourne coach Dean Bailey and then football chief Chris Connolly have been sanctioned for their words and deeds in the period under investigation.

So to reiterate, Melbourne didn’t tank, but the club itself and it’s most senior footy department employees did engage in “conduct prejudicial to the interests of the AFL” during the period investigated by former Federal Police. And that behaviour is worthy of a sum that amounts to about 1/18th of the Dees entire salary cap for the year to come.

What exactly could they have done that was so unbecoming as to cost them equivalent of what they’d probably be paying their best player this year if indeed it wasn’t tanking?

Let us interrogate the Jesuitical logic of Gillon McLachlan:

“The evidence suggests, and Dean Bailey agreed …. he made decisions to ultimately appease Chris. He made decisions to rest players. All three parties, Melbourne FC, Dean Bailey and Chris Connolly have accepted the sanctions.

“There is no evidence to suggest Dean Bailey or any players went out to lose games on match day …. Dean Bailey rested players who were available to play and played players out of position.”

Essentially McLachlan says that Melbourne did not deliberately lose games on matchday. That is, they didn’t all keep kicking it backwards and rushing it through for the opposition until the score was Opponents 256 – Melbourne 0.

But they do say that Melbourne engaged in “conduct prejudicial” in the LEAD UP to games. But according to McLachlan, this is not tanking. The mind boggles.

There are those Dees fans and hierarchy who will see this as a good result. I disagree. Either they tanked or they didn’t. This doesn’t clear their name. It is like that mystifying relic of history that remains in Scottish law: the “not proven” verdict.

It is my belief that Melbourne tanked in 2009. I’m hardly alone there. But the reality is that in the quasi-judicial process as entered into by the AFL belief is not enough. Proof is required.

As the AFL admits in its own statement, it cannot prove there was a directive at Melbourne in order to lose games and it cannot prove on matchday there was a plan to lose. Thus, Melbourne are cleared and walk out the front door. That’s how it is.

The mealy mouthed cowardice displayed by the AFL in trying to have its cake and eat it too – by fining the club and slapping sanctions on Connolly and Bailey they no doubt feel they will be seen to have done something – will only make things far worse down the track. Natural justice has not been served.

Melbourne will forever carry the stain of having engaged in “conduct prejudicial to the interest of the AFL” – whatever that may be, and most of us will just continue in our belief they tanked – in the 2009 season. Dean Bailey is suspended for 16 weeks and has professional name besmirched for  essentially doing what coaches will do every week this season, rest players or perhaps play somebody out of position. In AFL land anyway.

Chris Connolly cops a year long suspension for basically being a tool. According to the AFL he: “acted in a manner concerning pre-game planning, comprising comments to a football department meeting, which was prejudicial to the interests of the AFL.”

No, either he directed the coach to try and lose a game by his selections and coaching, or he didn’t. No grey area.

Everybody knows that the cover up always makes things worse. And this is what the AFL is doing here: engaging in a cover up.  They should either have found Melbourne guilty of tanking and whacked them hard.

Or they should have exonerated them fully, but been crystal clear about what would and wouldn’t constitute tanking, so no club could be under any doubt.

Instead, the AFL has merely extended the grey area on the matter unto infinity. If Bailey cops a whack for “resting players”, should Mark Harvey not get the same for his infamous decision to rest half the Freo team before the game against Hawthorn in 2011?

And if resting players who are fit is “conduct prejudicial to the interests of the AFL” and worthy of a 16 week ban, then surely running such a shoddy footy department that ASADA are forced to investigate what is being injected into your players, because you don’t know, is worth … who knows what?

Make no mistake, the AFL, in their attempt to be cute, have made things worse with this decision. Instead of facing up to the tanking saga, they have simply kicked it down the road to get bigger and uglier and lie in wait to pounce again, as it surely will.

Pies Steal the Show From Dons and Dogs

NAB Cup Logo

Collingwood took away the points in the first games of the 2013 NAB Cup, pipping Essendon by 2 points and the Western Bulldogs by 18. Earlier in the night the Bombers were able to put the controversy of the last two weeks behind them and defeat the Dogs by 26 points.

ESSENDON    1.2.4    1.5.6 (45)  WESTERN BULLDOGS     1.0.3    1.1.4 (19)

A strong second half from Essendon ensured that they were able to come away with the first win of the NAB cup. The Western Bulldogs held on early but could not keep up for the whole match.

Tom Bellchambers opened the scoring a few minutes in with a strong mark and goal, but the Dogs replied quickly with a super goal from Shaun Higgins who made the most of an advantage call from a free kick.

However that was just about all the Dogs could muster in terms of goals for the rest of the game. They were able to hold Essendon to one normal goal plus a super goal from  Kyle Hardingham for the rest of the half.

The second half was all Essendon though as they were able to maintain a lot of possession and a Bulldogs forward structure was nowhere to be seen.

It was the Bombers small men who did the damage on the scoreboard, with Alwyn Davey and Corey Dell’Olio converting on the high number of inside 50’s. Nick Kommer finished off the win with a goal on the siren.

What Essendon Can Take Away

-Brendon Goddard will be a brilliant pickup for the Dons. He had a game high 13 disposals and looked right at home in the red and black. He will enjoy being in a midfield with the likes of Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton  as they will take some pressure off him. The rest of the team will also enjoy his presence, they are already looking to give it to him as often as possible.

– Their defence showed promising signs, Jake Carlisle was excellent across half back taking some good defensive marks. Michael Hibberd also gathered plenty of the ball and could could become a permanent fixture if he can stay  injury free.

What the Western Bulldogs Can Take Away

– The Dogs have picked up some handy players who can become great contributors for them this year. Nick Lower held his own in the midfield with 11 disposals while Brett Goodes, brother of Adam was impressive off the half back and looks like a must have for your fantasy team.

-The Bulldogs really need to find a answer to their problems up forward before the season starts. On two consecutive forward entries, Liam Picken was their only forward inside 50. Although he was trying to shut down Dustin Fletcher, that is no way to run a forward line.

WESTERN BULLDOGS  1.0.5   1.2.10    (31)                 COLLINGWOOD                 0.2.3   0.4.5    (29)

The Western Bulldogs were able to put up a bit more of a fight in their second game of the night but the class of a rusty Collingwood team proved to be the difference.

The Dogs got off to a perfect start with a Daniel Giansiracusa goal straight from the center clearance.  From there the first half was pretty scrappy, the Magpies were taking a while to get into the game while the Bulldogs poor disposal  was hurting them.

Magpie goals came from turnovers, including Brent Macaffer’s first since his ACL, a nice crumbing goal from Jamie Elliot and Quinten Lynch’s first in the black and white. However the Bulldogs matched it with a few of their own includnig one from Troy Dixon to put them up by 2 points at the break.

After the break the Western Bulldogs faded again, after the first goal to Jarrad Grant they began to fall into the same traps of poor disposal and a poor forward line structure.

While Collingwood were not brilliant their talent, exemplified by Dane Swan’s super goal from a perfectly executed boundary throw in ensured that they would take the points.

What The Western Bulldogs Can Take Away

 There were some good signs from some of their youngsters, Lin Jong and Clay Smith were both able to get their hands on plenty of the ball. Jason Johannisen also showed some dash off the half back line. However they all still faced one big problem which is:

-Disposal efficiency. This was terrible for the Bulldogs and not only created goals for the opposition but stopped many of their own chances. They can make life a lot easier for themselves if they can just hit targets.

What Collingwood Can Take Away 

– Collingwood blooded plenty of new faces, most of which will be happy with their performances. The acquisitions from other teams played their roles, Lynch’s goal and set up to Travis Cloke was promising while Clinton Young Seemed to fit in well. Mature age recruit Kyle Martin also gathered plenty of the ball and will vie for a spot it upgraded.

– The Pie’s forward line also seemed to function well, it was at times their downfall last year but at its best it can be unstoppable. Cloke kicked his usual couple while Jamie Elliot provided great crumbing and pressure. Macaffer will also add another Dimension this year.

COLLINGWOOD  1.0.5   1.2.10    (31)                 ESSENDON                 0.2.3   0.4.5    (29)

Collingwood snatched an unlikely victory from Essendon with two goals in the last minute after the Bombers had been in control all game.

The first of the game went to Lewis Jetta with a nice front and center gather and quick finish. The Pies then fired back after a turnover as Ben Sinclair put through a 9 pointer.

From there the game descended into a tough scrap, with both teams having opportunities but neither converting. It took Dyson Heppell to pounce on a loose handball and kick a goal to brake the deadlock.

After half time Essendon turned the screws putting the preassure on the Pies and retaining possession. Jetta kicked his second early and Brendon Goddard’s first goal for the Bombers made it look like the Dons would take out their second win for the night but it wasn’t to be.

With only a minute left and 11 points down Andrew Krakouer, as he always does managed to thread the ball through a pack for a goal. The Magpies won the resulting center clearance only to manage a behind; but the kickout that followed came back with interest as Travis Cloke converted a free kick to take the lead.

Luke Davis had a shot after the siren to win the game, but from 65 meters out he never looked like making the distance.

What Collingwood Can Take Away

-The Pies had a new look ruck combination in the second half of the night consisting of Jarrod Witts and Ben Hudson. Hudson showed that he can be called upon if needed but  Witts was raw and may need some more development. However Hudson’s experience will be  invaluable and Witts can only improve and may become a force if he does.

– The play that will have brought the most joy to Collingwood supporters was Clinton Young’s overlap on the half back line and booming kick right to the Quinten Lynch on the 50m arc. Although Lynch missed, it is plays like that which the Pies will hope to replicate often this year.

What Essendon Can Take Away

-The Bombers showed plenty of resilience after a long preseason. Although they lost against Collingwood the performance in both games was promising despite what they have been through over the last few weeks. That heat will not disappear during the season but they showed that they can deal with it and still play good footy.

-Essendon also had a play that they will hope define their season. Patty Ryder put a perfect tap down the the throat of Goddard who went streaming forward and set up a shot at goal. Again it was only a behind but it is because of that brilliance that the Bombers got Goddard.

Innocence was lost a long time ago…


It has been called the blackest day in Australian sport. You have to admit it is a bit of a shocker.

Revelations that the Australian Crime Commission has found evidence of widespread match fixing and use of illegally obtained and used performance enhancing substances has left the wider Australian sport-watching community flummoxed to say the least.

Whatever the truth is, and plenty are mainly concerned with just the names and the dates, the lesson to be learned here is that it has been coming for some time. Whatever the details of the revelation, at some stage, we were going to get a scandal related to professional sporting people crossing the line and breaking the rules in order to either gain an on-field advantage, or maximise their income.

I can remember a time where Australian elite sport still had a recreational feel to it. League footballers, on top of being our heroes on the park every Saturday, would have a beer or three after the match, hold down full time (or near full time) jobs, and probably be able to go grocery shopping or to the movies without being hassled.

But the innate human need for competition, and subsequently, improvement and innovation, coupled with the growing amount of money flowing into the game, meant that eventually footballers would become full time professionals, and physically would need to back it up. This is also true of those two other great Australian team sports: Rugby League and Cricket.

Once financial security is on the line, then the environment is created where pushing and passing the boundaries becomes a viable option for some. Whether through the taking of banned performance enhancing substances or fixing the results of matches for financial gain, the result of a sporting event is manipulated in a prohibited way, and we, the fan, are left cheated and with a growing sense of cynicism about what to believe.

Teams make decisions about the long term and rebuff success in the short term and it becomes a “tanking” scandal. Why? Because, apart from humans being pretty fond of supporting a winner, it cheapens the experience we have when we attend sport. An experience which continues to become more expensive.

I know some people who’ve thought twice about throwing their memberships into the bin when they arrived. I’m nowhere near that stage, but it is disappointing all the same. However, it does reveal that there is growing need for the honestly held concerns of “fankind” to be taken into account when major sporting organisations, managing leagues and competitions worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually, make decisions about the future of their respective sports.

It is too easy to call today the death of Australian sporting innocence, because a day like this has been coming for some time. Surely it can be a turning point, and hopefully the common Australian sporting fan is front and centre of considerations from now on. We deserve better than what happened today.

Essendon faces doping investigation, but what are peptides?

James Heathers

PhD Candidate in Applied Physiology at University of Sydney


By now you’ll have heard the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) is investigating Essendon Football Club. At this stage, there has been speculation about the injection of “peptides” by players in training, without any confirmation that this was the case.

So assuming the speculation has some foundation, what are peptides?

In the literal sense, a peptide is just a very small protein. As might be expected, there are hundreds upon hundreds of known peptides, as many as there can be amino acids combined in short chains. Peptides have a wide range of potential activities, including:

There may be no cause for alarm in the case of Essendon, as there are several sports-legitimate and unregulated uses for peptides, per se. Leucine peptides or the hydrolysed protein mixture PeptoPro, for instance, are simply the high-performance cousins of whey protein supplements– essentially, they are “pre-digested” protein fragments designed to aid recovery from vigorous activity.

These substances are no more controversial than ordinary protein supplements. Such peptides can be bought over the counter and require no secrecy.

Certainly, such peptides are never injected.

Worst-case scenario

The ugly and entirely more likely option is that the peptide being speculated about is one from the family of growth-hormone-releasing peptides, of which there are several available: pralmorelin, hexarelin, tesamorelin, or sermorelin, and more.

These various growth hormone-releasing peptides, or secretagogues, stimulate the production of growth hormone by the pituitary gland. This is reminiscent of Lance Armstrong’s drug of choice, erythopoetin (EPO), which stimulates the body to produce red blood cells.

A spike in endogenous growth hormone (which may also be injected directly) is used to aid recovery and muscular growth – and, while not as effective as anabolic steroids for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, growth hormone has significantly fewer side effects. Significantly, it’s also more difficult to detect.

Suffice to say, these growth hormone-releasing peptides sit squarely in the WADA banned substances list. Much recent research has gone into identifying their patterns of usage, and how the individual drugs might be identified in blood tests.

Where to now?

The current investigation may have broad repercussions. Representatives of the Geelong and Gold Coast football clubs, and rugby league club Manly, have said they employed some of the people who worked for Essendon’s fitness program.

Given ASADA is involved in this case, there is unlikely to be much clemency if any club is found guilty.

Athletes operate under what is known as the “strict liability” clause, which means an athlete is directly responsible at all times for substances that are found in them, regardless of how they got there – and guilty until proven innocent.

The fact Essendon players supposedly signed a consent form or waiver will be of little relevance either way. But it’s unclear what the position is, as so far we are dealing with a report that a program of drug use existed, and not hard evidence of use.

We can assume more information will come to light and, given the high profile accorded to doping cases recently, we certainly haven’t heard the last of this story.

People have been busted for possession and use of growth-hormone releasing peptides before … and that list may be about to get a whole lot longer.

Essendon to be investigated over possible use of performance-enhancing drugs

essendon drugs

Essendon have come forth in a press conference regarding a possible breach of Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority regulations.

The belief is that players were asked to sign waivers regarding the club’s fitness program and everything it entailed.

The former Essendon head of fitness, Stephen Dank, left the Bombers in late 2012 following controversy regarding the fitness program. Essendon players experienced a high number of soft-tissue injuries in the 2012 season, which was noted by senior officials including coach James Hird.

The implications are potentially horrifying for Essendon supporters. WADA guidelines are strict, and all performance-enhancing drugs are punished under these guidelines. Any individual player caught under PED regulations will almost certainly be subject to a 2-year ban, similar to the ban handed to former Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. Assuming the entire Essendon playing list from 2012 was involved, you’re looking at the Bombers having approximately a half-dozen players eligible for the 2013 season.

This goes further. Joe Daniher, the prized father-son pick in last year’s draft, could be implicated. If he was involved in an Essendon-run fitness scheme, which is not unheard of for father-son picks, then he could have been involved in a similar PED program as well, and would possibly fall under WADA guidelines as such.

There’s also Jobe Watson’s Brownlow Medal to consider. In the event that Watson is stripped based on events in the 2012 season, Trent Cotchin and Sam Mitchell would thus be awarded the Brownlow jointly. Nevertheless, it is very much a bittersweet affair; past Tour de France winners who were awarded the victory due to the “winner” being stripped due to drugs have said that it is simply not the same; the cheat received all the plaudits and the parades at the time.

The AFL would have to punish all involved. While the former fitness “guru” is no longer with Essendon, if it was found that the coaching staff had knowledge and gave approval to the fitness staff regarding this, you’re looking at a minimum of similar bans for the likes of James Hird and Mark Thompson, if not longer.

Finally, depending on what is found, there are implications that send shockwaves through the AFL. The likes of Angus Monfries and Sam Lonergan, no longer with the EFC but now with other AFL clubs, would also likely be banned if they had any involvement. Questions could be raised about Geelong’s 2007 and 2009 premierships if Mark Thompson is implicated. The legacy of one of the greatest to play the game in James Hird would be tarnished forever.


Discuss on

AFL summit sends wrong message on illicit drug use

By Craig Fry @


The AFL’s approach to illicit drugs was championed as a world leader of drugs-in-sport policy when it was implemented in 2005. It was fair, humane and had been effective in reducing match day and out-of-season positive test numbers, through better player education and frequency of testing.

In recent months however, some cracks have started to appear.

AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou has flagged that the 2012 data will show an increase in positive tests from the six detections made in 2011. And there are evidently wider concerns within some AFL clubs and sections of the media about levels of drug use among players, and the capacity of the current AFL policy to address this issue into the future.

This prompted the AFL player welfare and drug summit held this week in Melbourne, where a number of key stakeholders and drug health experts gathered to take stock of the current AFL illicit drug policy (IDP), and consider options for change.

Judging from the rhetoric and reaction surrounding Wednesday’s AFL summit, the AFL IDP is about to change, and not necessarily for the better.

If the clubs get their way, they will be more involved in player drug testing and managing the outcomes of positive results. Depending on the model implemented, this could represent an impossible conflict of interest – club business pressures versus their responsibilities to player welfare and community, and inequities in club budgets available for drug-testing are just two factors that could create a real potential for abuse of the AFL drug policy.

The other likely changes to the AFL IDP include a tightening of the rules and ramifications around player self-reporting of drug use, and the expansion of off-season hair drug tests to inform the further target-testing of suspect players.

But the most concerning thing to emerge from AFL drug summit is the strong public message being given by many involved: that all instances of illicit drug use require correction or rehabilitation through mental health counselling and medical treatment.

One well-known psychologist at the AFL summit argued for the use of personality tests on players to measure their “addiction potential”, so they could be flagged as likely to have future problems.

Some clubs want earlier notifications if their players test positive, again because they want to help one way or the other. Tellingly, the Collingwood president’s take on it was that “Players with mental health issues need help and support. Those who are smart-arses need to be belted.”

And, former Hawthorn president, Jeff Kennett argued that clubs should be alerted earlier so they could support the player back to a “condition of good behaviour”.

It became clear this week that many in the AFL, and at least some experts, see drug use as a pathology needing a cure.

Such a stance makes sense from a community message perspective. When individual players inevitably test positive it allows the AFL and the clubs to say two things that the community wants to hear:

  1. Player X made the wrong decision, is remorseful, and is receiving the counselling and medical treatment that is necessary to correct his problem.
  2. The AFL drug policy is working.

However, the problem with the “drug use = pathology” message is that its simply not true. Not all instances of drug use reflect an underlying mental health or medical problem that requires counselling and treatment. We know from the available data that most people who use drugs never encounter major health harms from doing so, and never require treatment or rehabilitation.

But perhaps the biggest issue with the pathologising message gathering pace in the AFL setting is how the players currently using drugs, and perhaps those around them looking on, might interpret it.

As confronting as this will be for some, the experience of most AFL players using drugs has most likely been positive. They would find drugs exciting, pleasurable, fun, and may have also experienced perhaps unexpected enhancements to their performance in various areas (sexual, cognitive, physical, emotional and so on). That is why they do it.

We have to ask ourselves then, what real value is there in publicly framing drug use as a pathology needing medical treatment and cure, while the private experience couldn’t be more different in most cases?

The danger here is that such conflicting messages about drugs serve to teach the players and the community watching them that if you get caught doing something disapproved of like using drugs, you had better confess to having a mental health or medical problem that needs correcting, submit willingly to that rehabilitation you need, and all will be fixed.

Again, for the most part that’s not true, and it’s rarely that simple.

We should by all means put in place the best evidence-based policy structures and treatment options to assist those individual AFL players who do experience health and other problems caused by or related to drug use. A health and welfare focus like the AFL IDP is more effective than a punitive criminalising approach to illicit drug use.

But, we must also reflect on the credibility of the messages that accompany these health and welfare focused drug policies, in sport and in other domains of life.

The broader issue here is that we have a tendency to panic about drugs in our midst. Parents panic about their children using drugs. Teachers panic about drug use by students. AFL clubs panic about their star players using drugs and the damage to their brand and success.

We panic because we remember the terrible cases of lives ruined and lost through drug dependence. Such cases do exist.

We should also remember that drugs and other psychoactive substances have always served important spiritual, therapeutic, economic and cultural functions in our societies. We should remember that some of the most accomplished and celebrated people in history were drug users – authors, painters, poets, musicians, presidents and prime ministers, sportspeople, soldiers and generals and so on.

We must accept that drugs, illicit and otherwise, will continue to shape our society in the future too.

There is no doubt that the AFL executive, the AFL Players Association, and other community leaders have a responsibility to send appropriate messages about drug use and its potential consequences.

The most credible message we can give here is that we have an AFL illicit drugs policy that can privately provide the appropriate health and welfare assistance to players if and when it is needed.

Saying that all people who use illicit drugs require rehabilitation through mental health counselling and medical treatment is not true, and it is not helpful.

Panicking is no basis for effective drug policy.