AFL CEO Andrew Dillon speaks to reporters in 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

AFL CEO Andrew Dillon has defended the League's "clinical intervention model", in which players are tested for illicit drugs under the supervision of club doctors, maintaining it has always been part of the AFL's Illicit Drugs Policy.

Federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie told parliament on Tuesday night that players had faked injuries and withdrawn from games to avoid drug testing by Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) for illicit substances on match days.

STATEMENT AFL statement on Illicit Drug Policy

The allegations were made by former Melbourne president Glen Bartlett, ex-club doctor Zeeshan Arain and Shaun Smith, a former Melbourne player and father of current Demon Joel, who is currently provisionally suspended after testing positive to cocaine in an match-day test conducted by SIA.

Under the World Anti-Doping Authority Code, Smith is facing a maximum suspension of four years for testing positive for a non-specified substance on game day.

SIA does not conduct testing for illicit drugs on non-match days.


On Wednesday, Dillon wasn't shying away from the practice of players taking drug tests on non-match days under the supervision of club doctors, and said it would continue.

"We have two policies in place, we've got the AFL Anti-Doping Code, and they're tests conducted by Sports Integrity Australia, and we've got the AFL Illicit Drugs Policy, where we have tests that are performed at the club by Dorevitch (Pathology), but sometimes those tests may take place at other venues," Dillon told reporters.

"Then we've got the hair tests done under the Illicit Drugs Policy, then we've got the clinical intervention model which is conducted by the doctors – that might be conducted by the doctors, or it might be at the club.

"It's been part of the Illicit Drugs Policy, the clinical intervention tests, and they will continue to happen, because what we're trying to do is prioritise the health and safety of our players.

"We don't want our players – if there's a chance they might have a substance in their system – we don't want them training, and we don't want them taking part in matches, for their health and welfare, above anything else.

"The doctors have to make that call in conjunction with the player. It's private medical information of the players."

Dillon repeatedly said that only a small handful of players had fallen into this category, and maintained illicit drug use wasn't a widespread issue among AFL and AFLW players.

"There is a difference between what the public is interested in, and what is in the public interest. There have been cases of that over the journey," he said.

"The findings in those cases has been that doctor-patient confidentiality has been paramount, and should be prioritised.

"No, (it's) not at all (widespread). I've said a number of times, it's a societal issue, and that's why we have an illicit drug policy in place. It's founded on player welfare, we educate and we aim to rehabilitate."

Dillon also welcomed the SIA's plan to assess the claims made by Mr Wilkie, with the League boss urging the MP to hand over relevant documents.

"I spoke to David Sharpe from Sport Integrity Australia earlier today and the AFL supports SIA's role in being asked to assess the claims made under Parliamentary privilege by Andrew Wilkie MP," Dillon said.

"We encourage Mr Wilkie to pass on all the documents in his possession to SIA and look forward to working with SIA and providing any information on the AFL Illicit Drug policy and its objectives and operation."

When asked if he believed players who are late withdrawals from a game because of a genuine injury would now come under public suspicion of having tested positive, Dillon replied: "I've said it a number of times, we're talking about a very small handful of players, and it is private medical information".

AFL CEO Andrew Dillon speaks to reporters in Sydney on March 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The Illicit Drugs Policy – created in conjunction by the AFL and AFL Players Association – is currently under review, and Dillon said he was hoping to have an updated version at some point this year, but indicated a zero-tolerance policy was unlikely.

The two-match suspension of two Sydney AFLW players – Lexi Hamilton and Paige Sheppard – earlier this week for "conduct unbecoming", after they received a good behaviour bond from the courts for possession of an illicit substance, highlighted that AFLW players are not signatories to the policy.

One of the original sticking factors was AFLW players were not signed to year-long contracts, which has changed in the past 12 months.

"I think what we need to do is make sure we have a policy that is fit for purpose for 2024, 2025 and beyond. I think we’ve got a policy that's been in place for 19 years, I think it's worked really well and it continues to work well," Dillon said.

"It's about rehabilitation and intervention, and it has made – over the 19 years it's been in place – it's made a difference to a number of players' lives. I've said it before, if it was only one or two players, it'd [still] be worth it, but I know it's been more than that. It does work, it continues to work, but it could be better, and that's why we're reviewing it.

"[AFLW] is part of the review we're going on now. We've been on a journey, we've made enormous bounds in AFLW in going from our eight teams to 18, the season expanding and a number of other things. I think as part of the review, the AFLW players being part of the policy is definitely part of the review."

STATEMENT Statement on behalf of AFL Doctors Association President

The AFL Players' Association said players had agreed to the League's Illicit Drugs Policy on the basis that it was "a medical model and is focused on identifying, educating, and rehabilitating". 

"What is often misunderstood on this topic is that the IDP is separate from the AFL Anti-Doping Code, which is overseen by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and focuses on identifying and sanctioning any athletes who may be taking performance enhancing substances," the AFLPA said in a statement released on Wednesday afternoon. 

"These are two different policies with completely different objectives."

Andrew Dillon speaks with media at Circular Quay on March 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The AFLPA said it was reviewing the Illicit Drugs Policy with the AFL, while working with experts to ensure the policy remained best practice.

Mr Wilkie had urged Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to intervene and "do everything he can to restore and protect the reputation of our beloved game", calls that were rebuffed by Mr Albanese during Question Time on Wednesday.

"These allegations - I'm not aware of whether they are correct or not," Albanese said.

"I have a big job.

"On the job description isn't the control of the Australian Football League.

"Sport Integrity Australia is aware of the issue and they have begun their assessment.

"I'm sure that (Mr Wilkie) will forward any documentation to the appropriate body."