Collingwood pair Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas may never play in the AFL again, prompting Magpies chief Gary Pert to warn that the entire Australian sporting community is on notice as a result of their drug bans.
Keeffe and Thomas will serve two years out of the game after producing a positive test to banned fat-burning steroid clenbuterol, which they believe was an unintended consequence of taking illicit drugs.
Pert said the case would serve as a red flag to any athlete considering taking recreational drugs.
“The events that have brought us here today I believe amount to a turning point in our code and more broadly in Australian sport,” he said.
“The decision to take an illicit drug could now result in a major sanction and the end of your career.”
Keeffe and Thomas said they would not contest the ASADA charge while insisting it was not their intention to dope.
“At no stage did we knowingly take clenbuterol,” Thomas said.
“We can only assume it occurred in a night out prior to testing, on which we took illicit drugs.
“Although we can’t be sure, we believe the substance we took was laced with clenbuterol.”
Keeffe said he had struggled to cope since receiving the first notice of a positive test in March, but understood and accepted the outcome.
“We take full responsibility for our mistakes and we accept the consequences,” he said.
“We hope others will learn from our mistakes.”
Collingwood has delisted the pair and also fined them around $50,000 each.
Their ban has been backdated to start from March, 2015.
Pert said the AFL must keep their case at the front of their minds during a review of the illicit drugs policy.
“There must be a greater level of accountability and consequence for players if they are detected taking illicit drugs,” he said.
“Lachie and Josh made a decision to take illicit drugs, not performance-enhancing drugs and that was done on the assumption that if detected they would receive a strike without sanction and their identities would have remained anonymous.
“This is clearly not a big enough deterrent.”
ASADA regulations mandate strict and brutal consequences for athletes who test positive to performance-enhancing drugs, while the AFL has employed a health-oriented policy toward illicit drug use.
The three-strikes policy, which is being reviewed, allows illicit drug use in two instances without major sanction.
In accepting his players’ story on how the banned drug entered their systems, Pert said Keeffe, 25, and Thomas, 23, would regret it for the rest of their lives.
“Their decisions will cost them two years of playing AFL football, the game they’ve loved and have dreamed of playing every since they were young boys,” he said.
“It will ultimately cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars and dented their reputations.
“After a two-year break there are certainly no guarantees they will play AFL football again though I must admit I hope they do.”
Collingwood have given the pair an assurance they will re-draft them as rookies at the end of the year should they wish to play on.
Magpies football manager Neil Balme said the club’s decision was in part to provide them with hope.
“We’re keen to give them the light at the end of the tunnel … if they want it,” he said.