The AFL won’t expedite a review of its “three strikes” illicit drugs policy in light of explosive allegations of drug use at expansion club Gold Coast.
Photos of Suns forward Harley Bennell appearing to prepare drugs on a March 2013 pre-season club trip to Launceston have been widely circulated, adding a dramatic new dimension to the club’s woes.
But AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said he had full faith in the club’s ability to navigate the crisis.
He added the Suns should not be seen as the only AFL club – or part of society – grappling with the issue.
“They’re the same challenges that many, potentially all, of our clubs have faced to a greater or lesser extent,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“Whether they’re 140-years-old or 20-years old, everyone has (challenges) and it’s how you respond to them which is ultimately the proof of where this club goes.
“These stories of start-up clubs are not linear journeys, they have lumps and swings and roundabouts.”
The AFL supremo said the league’s focus was ensuring the wellbeing of Bennell, who has been stood down by the Suns for Saturday’s match with North Melbourne.
McLachlan suggested placing compromising photos of the star forward on the front page of News Corp papers was reckless.
“It increases the vulnerability of a young man who we know has had significant challenges,” he said.
“He’s had an incredibly tough background.
“It means more than ever, his welfare is incredibly important and our focus.
“The club have been working closely with Harley for a couple of years … and are ensuring he has the right people around him to deal with today and to deal with his challenges ongoing.”
The AFL’s challenge now is to help the expansion club through its illicit drugs problems.
Former player Karmichael Hunt’s revelations to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission on the weekend sparked claims of a drug-fuelled culture at the Suns.
It’s brought into sharp light the AFL’s “three strikes” policy, which deals with recreational and not performance enhancing drug use amongst players.
Having announced a review of the policy in March, McLachlan he wouldn’t be rushing in a new policy and overriding months of careful considerations.
“Our policy was right 10 years ago but I’m not sure that it is going forward, and we’ve been reviewing it for many weeks and we’ll have a new policy in place for the start of the off season,” he said.
“It’s an illustration today, it’s the same issue, it’s just quite graphic and I guess unprecedented.
“Today I don’t think changes anything. We’re aware of the challenges, we called them out many months ago.”
McLachlan again conceded the policy did need changing.
“The policy has to balance up the rights of the players and their welfare … and the responsibilities and accountabilities to our industry, to our clubs and our supporters,” he said.
“We think the policy has room for improvement to get a greater level of accountability into the system.
“It probably needs to be that every strike has an action or an accountability point but that doesn’t mean it’s a zero tolerance. It’s a delicate balance.”