Contentious drugs loophole to be closed

AFL players will soon no longer be able to self-report their drug use to the league with impunity. League chief executive Andrew Demetriou said the contentious loophole of the league's illicit drugs policy would be tightened, although he could not say whether the change would be introduced by the start of the 2013 season.

The elimination of the loophole - where players could admit to the league's medical officers that they had used illicit drugs without having a strike recorded against their name - was the major change to the policy raised at Wednesday's drug summit, which featured presentations from league officials, drug educators, club bosses and players, the players' union and police.

Demetriou said the policy could be amended soon but would need to go before the key parties before the policy was changed.

"I'm pretty certain given from what I've heard today regarding the self-notification, that's something that can be addressed pretty quickly," he said.

Participants at the summit also agreed to devise an annual working party to address the drugs issue. The working party will comprise Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert, Essendon boss Ian Robson and their Gold Coast counterpart, Travis Auld, along with league medical officers, a club doctor, representatives from the AFL Players Association and experts.

Demetriou said the 18 clubs were unanimous in their support for retaining the three-strikes policy, but the timing of when clubs are informed about their players remained a sticking point.

Pert, speaking at a media conference after the summit on behalf of the management of the 18 clubs, said clubs wanted to discuss when they were informed about a player's drug use, and who would be told.

"There is a real strong bind from every aspect to say that needs to be explored further," he said.

Pert said Collingwood considered a third strike to be "too late to give assistance".

AFLPA chief executive Matt Finnis conceded the clubs were acting in good faith in wanting to know if their players were using drugs, but indicated players would oppose any push to have their confidentiality breached if they recorded a positive test.

"I'm prepared to consider that in good faith given the way in which it's been brought to the table. But it was also very clear today from the players that there's some fundamental pillars to the policy which are grounded in welfare first and confidentiality, which the players hold very dear to their agreement to this," he said.

"We need to work through that."Demetriou said the league expected a spike in the number of positive drug tests in figures released this year, based on how readily available drugs were.

He said the Australian Federal Police had told the summit there had been an increase in importation of illegal substances, while Victoria Police had said there was a 20 per cent increase in usage in society.

Pert said the summit was a "positive step for the industry" on addressing the drugs issue, and that every club was concerned. But he said he would welcome an increase in positive tests as evidence the illicit drugs policy was effective.

"I know a lot of people are going to see that as a negative but I would say however many - if it's five people, that's five young men - that the industry and the doctors are going to have the opportunity to communicate with and confront that issue," he said.

"You don't want to see it go through the roof but at the same time I don't see it as a great thing if our numbers of positive tests is low."

Finnis said the players remained committed to the policy and had felt an ownership of it since it was introduced in 2005.

He said any spike in the number of positive tests would be disappointing, but noted that players were "not immune" from the pressures in society.

AFL medical officer Peter Harcourt said there was no way of telling how many players were using drugs without testing all of them every day.

This story Contentious drugs loophole to be closed first appeared on WA Today.