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ASADA stands firm on drug code for team sports

ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt (Picture: Getty Images)

ASADA has ruled out any changes to the way it applies global anti-doping rules to team sports.

It could leave the AFL talking to itself, in its previously flagged 'conversation' about the issue in the aftermath of the 36-month Essendon supplements scandal.

It comes as the sport considers just how much government funding would be at stake if the AFL is to break away completely from the World Anti-Doping Code.

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ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt told AFL.com.au he had no plans to change the way the code applies to team sports in Australia.

"The idea that the code is only suitable for individual sports is misguided," McDevitt said.

The former Australian Crime Commission official points out that more than 80 Australian sports comply with the code, two thirds have a team component, including 18 which are solely team pursuits. 

How much money is exactly at stake though, is a matter for debate.

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Federal Sports Minister Susan Ley declined to comment for this story, but her spokesman said she was monitoring developments.

AFL.com.au understands the League receives less than $1million a year in direct federal government funding for grass roots activities via the Australian Sports Commission.

With $2.5billion in media rights money on the way, the AFL's ability to cover such a shortfall isn't the issue. 

The obvious problem is the risk of a public relations backlash if it follows American professional sports like the NFL and NBA in going it alone.

The other, perhaps more significant problem, is the possibility of losing indirect taxpayer funding.

Governments at all levels contribute tens of millions of dollars to stadiums, indigenous programs, multicultural strategies and other AFL community-based projects, which would all be put at risk.

The AFL Commission is on record saying it will look at how the world policy applies to team sports. 

"This Essendon process has taken too long, and CAS's judgment invites a discussion about the way the code applies to team sports in future," Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said in the wake of the Essendon 34's suspensions. 

Last week, Collingwood football boss Neil Balme became one of the first senior club officials to publicly call for the AFL to walk away from WADA

Balme has recent experience dealing with anti-doping authorities, having been heavily involved in the Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas case.

The Magpie pair received two-year suspensions for taking a banned substance.

However Balme's view is not necessarily the widespread view in club-land.

As the AFL Commission meets next month to determine what to do with Jobe Watson's 2012 Brownlow Medal, the conversation about the broader anti-doping code will likely also begin.

But with ASADA not willing to budge, it might end up being a very short conversation at the end of a very long ordeal for the sport.