Over the past few months, a lot has been said about the AFL's approach to illicit drugs and the operation of the Illicit Drug policy.

Unfortunately, a lot of what has been claimed is inaccurate.

Having a debate or discussion about complex societal issues such as illicit drug use is a good thing – particularly when the National Drug Strategy's Household Survey found that 47% of Australians over the age of 14 have used illicit drugs sometime in their life.

The AFL is committed to combating drug use and changing behaviours in line with expert advice and Government policy.

Here are some facts about the Illicit Drug Policy.

  • The AFL does not in any way condone or support the use of illicit drugs.
  • The AFL believes there is no safe drug use and all illicit drug use causes harm.
  • According to the National Drug Strategy's most recent Household Survey, 47% of Australians or 10.2 million people over the age of 14 have used illicit drugs sometime in their life and almost one in 5 have done so in the past year. AFL footballers are not immune from this issue.
  • In 2005 the AFL, in conjunction with the AFL Players Association became the first sport in Australia to develop an illicit drugs policy to reduce substance use and drug-related harms for AFL players through education and intervention that aims to change behaviours.
  • The AFL Illicit Drug Policy was and still is based on the National Drug Strategy that has harm minimisation as one of the key planks. The current National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 supported by all Australian Federal, State and Territory Governments can be found here 
  • AFL players are the only Australian athletes to volunteer to be part of an out-of-competitions testing for illicit drugs. Most other Australian professional and Olympic athletes have not volunteered or agreed to be part of an illicit drug policy testing outside of competition.
  • The AFL acknowledge that illicit drug use problems often co-occur with other conditions, including mental health conditions.
  • The AFL provides education and intervention through counselling and clinical support to players who test positive to illicit drug use through either a urine or hair test.
  • Unlike most Australian professional and Olympic sports, the AFL has two drug policies:
    • 1. The Australian Football Anti-Doping Code which mirrors the World Anti-Doping Code that all AFL footballers and all professional and Olympic athletes are subject to. Under the World Anti-Doping Code, athletes can be tested 24 hours a day, seven days a week for performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids or human growth hormone. However, under this code, illicit drugs are considered performance enhancing only "in competition" and not "out of competition" which means most athletes outside of AFL and a handful of other sports are not tested for illicit drug use "out-of-competition." Sport Integrity Australia undertake all testing under the World Anti-Doping Code.
    • 2. The AFL Illicit Drug policy which is one of the few policies in any Australian sport where athletes have volunteered to be part of an "out-of-competition" testing regime not related to game day. Australian footballers are subject to both urine and hair testing for illicit drugs. The AFL or as part of a treatment program, AFL-appointed clinicians or drug specialists conduct all testing of players under the AFL Illicit Drug Policy.
  • The Illicit Drug Policy is IN ADDITION TO the Anti-Doping Code and is NOT a substitute. There are two codes.
  • Neither the WADA code nor the AFL Illicit Drug policy means AFL players are not subject to the same laws as other Australians if they are caught using drugs by police.
  • The policy is unashamedly a harm minimisation policy which is aligned to the National Drug Strategy framework with the primary aim of the policy to help players change behaviours.
  • The policy is currently under review and that work is ongoing but the key plank of harm minimisation and health and welfare will remain the focus.
  • Since the inception of the Illicit Drug Policy in 2005 doctors – both club doctors and treating clinicians – have a number of tools they use to monitor the progress of those who are in treatment including urine tests. Not every player in medical treatment is urine tested by their treating doctor. Most are not.
  • No doctor will allow – or should allow - a player to train or play if he thinks he has illicit drugs in his system for both their own and others' physical health and because to play a match with illicit drugs on match day is a breach of the WADA code and – as Sport Integrity points out in its latest assessment – is cheating.
  • Every Australian has the right to confidentiality of their medical information. While the AFL's Illicit Drug Policy involves a multidisciplinary healthcare management plan, the monitoring of players is highly confidential, and a doctor or healthcare professional cannot disclose the nature of the clinical intervention or condition to others unless the player willingly consents.
  • Sport Integrity Australia assessed a number of claims made about the operations of the AFL's Illicit Drug Policy and found the operation of the out-of-competition policy did not breach the WADA Code and found no evidence to suggest players feigned injuries to cover up for positive drug tests.

In its assessment, SIA found:

    • Based on information available to SIA it concluded there were NO breaches of the World Anti- Doping Code (WADC) through any Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVS) by AFL players or support personnel.
    • WADA has advised SIA that it supports SIA's conclusion there were NO breaches of the WADC.
    • As a signatory to the WADC, the AFL has mandatory obligations around anti-doping education. While the AFL does have a current Anti-Doping Education Plan, SIA has identified a need for the AFL's to enhance its education program to all levels of the game.
    • SIA concluded that there are NO irreconcilable inconsistencies between the AFL's Illicit Drugs Policy and the National Anti-Doping Scheme.
  • SIA also found that claims there is a secret policy to avoid or subvert the WADA code is untrue.
  • If an AFL player has illicit drugs in their system on match day that is deemed performance enhancing under the World Anti-Doping Code and the AFL supports Sports Integrity Australia's strong stance that athletes caught in breach of the World Anti-Doping Code should face heavy sanctions.
  • We accept the Illicit Drugs Policy can be improved and the AFL is working with the AFLPA and players to improve the policy and the system to ensure we are better able to change the behaviours of players.
  • Inaccurate and misleading information about illicit drugs is out of step with the evidence that supports effective drug education. The AFL will continue to provide factual and evidence informed education to players on the harms of illicit drugs.
  • The AFL supports Sport Integrity Australia's suggestion of bringing together all Olympic and Professional sports together with Government, law enforcement, medical and integrity experts to discuss the national approach to illicit drugs in sport.