The AFL has leapt to the defence of its illicit drugs policy in the wake of a report alleging up to 11 Collingwood players returned positive tests in the off-season.
The explosive claims were revealed by News Corp on Thursday evening just before the AFL season got underway at the MCG.
The revelation led for calls to toughen the policy – most notably from Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley who wants `zero tolerance’ – currently the policy has a focus on player wellbeing and education with the guarantee of strict confidentiality.
But AFL football operations boss Mark Evans said it was too early to pass judgement on the policy that was revamped late last year.
“This is the first year of the policy’s operation, and I ask that the new policy be given a chance to be in operation and measured for its impact before we demand new changes,” Evans said via a statement on Friday.
“The use of illicit drugs affects all sections of society, including AFL players, but testing results continue to indicate levels of use below the general public.
“The AFL has informed the clubs regarding the hair testing over the holidays, but we will not make these public.
“The AFL remains committed to an illicit drugs policy that seeks to change behaviour, and penalise players whose behaviour doesn’t change.”
Hair testing was introduced as part of the overhaul but is currently used for research purposes only with players not given a strike under the policy if they are found to have transgressed by that method of testing.
AFL Players Association boss Paul Marsh reacted angrily to the report that he felt was a serious breach of player confidentiality.
“It would be good if there was some respect for what we’re trying to achieve here,” Marsh told 3AW.
“It’s predictable that some people are going to be taking a stab at how many players may be testing positive.
“This new policy was agreed to late last year, it hasn’t even taken affect yet. Give it a chance.”
Collingwood president Eddie McGuire said the club’s hands were tied when it came to the illicit drugs policy given the guarantees of player confidentiality.
“It’s a question without any basis in fact, but as far as I know it could well be the truth because we don’t find out,” McGuire said on Fox Footy.
“We get piecemeal information. We’re speaking to the AFL in the next couple of weeks about the hair-testing results but until the clubs have actually got some control over it there’s no point talking to the clubs.
“Its an AFL and AFL Players Association matter.”
The Magpies have pushed for changes to the policy in the past, urging the AFL to allow clubs access to testing information so they may better safeguard the health and wellbeing of their players.
Collingwood duo Josh Thomas and Lachie Keeffe are currently serving bans for taking illicit drugs laced with clenbuterol, a banned substance under the WADA code.
North Melbourne forward Shaun Higgins admitted he was surprised that players would choose to run the gauntlet with illicit drugs given what happened to the banned pair.
“To put yourself in that position and then the scare through the whole footy world with the two Collingwood players … hopefully that made a lot of players realise (the dangers),” Higgins said.
“(But) if players put themselves in that position, then further education needs to take place.”