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Players sceptical on drugs policy changes

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 10: Lachlan Keeffe leaves after addressing the media during a Collingwood Magpies press conference at the Westpac Centre, Melbourne on August 10, 2015. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Magpie Lachlan Keeffe received a two-year ban after falling foul of the current illicit drugs policy

PLAYER representatives remain sceptical that confidentiality can be maintained if AFL club officials other than the club doctor are informed if a player tests positive to illicit drugs.

They are still concerned that information could be used to a player's detriment in relation to selection or list management and, importantly, wonder about the expertise of those who might be informed to manage the issue in a proper fashion.

Comment: All will learn from Thomas and Keeffe's harsh punishment

As momentum for change to the illicit drugs policy gathered pace, the AFLPA board met on Wednesday night to discuss possible changes to the voluntary policy introduced in 2005.

While there is an appreciation of the need for a review, the players are understood to remain some way off to agreeing to changes that would allow certain club officials to be made aware of a player's identity if they return a positive test to illicit drugs for the first time.

AFL.com.au understands that although players could see potential value in a person other than the club doctor being aware of those detected, particularly to manage a player who might be having a negative influence on the group, they found it much more difficult to determine who that person should be.

The club CEO, coach, player development managers and football managers were raised during Wednesday's debate as potential recipients of the information but because of the difficulty in finding an obvious candidate the players thought the club doctor, who is bound by confidentiality, remained the best option.

The players also argue that any club official nominated would require significant training on how to deal with the information responsibly and protect confidentiality.

Players agree to six months of hair-testing for illicit drugs

AFL.com.au understands many involved in the review process believe that a strong expert-led counselling program for those who record a first detection is the best way to reach the policy's objectives.

Although player representatives are understood to be open to heavier penalties being applied to those who record a second detection to act as a deterrent, they remain concerned of the effect on an individual if information becomes public when each circumstance surrounding a detection is unique.

Many players remain frustrated that the effectiveness of the current policy is criticised because the success stories aren't visible due to the nature of the code.

Club CEOs already receive information as to trends and the general situation within their club and club sources say target testing has made it possible for suspicion to be raised about some players.

However some club CEOs remain adamant that a club official other than the doctor should be made aware of a detection to ensure action to assist the player takes place as early as possible.

Most observers believe the experience of Collingwood pair Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas, who accepted a two-year ban this week after testing positive to clenbuterol, a substance banned under the AFL anti-doping code they suspect was ingested when they took illicit drugs laced with the substance on a day off, will act as a huge deterrent for most players.

AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh remains determined to ensure an evidence-based approach is taken and that all aspects of the players' wellbeing remain the first priority of the policy.

"Despite views to the contrary, the facts are that the policy has been successful in changing player behaviour and deterring illicit drug use," Marsh said on Monday.

"In saying this, the AFLPA is committed to continually improving the policy and we will continue to hold ongoing discussions with the AFL, other industry stakeholders and independent experts to determine what, if any, changes to the IDP are necessary."