WEST Coast premiership forward Willie Rioli has received a backdated two-year ban for tampering with a urine sample and will be able to play in 2021, ending 18 months of uncertainty for the talented Eagle.
The ban is final after all avenues for appeal by Sports Integrity Australia and WADA expired before the penalty was formally announced by the AFL on Thursday.
The 25-year-old has been banned since the 2019 finals series after tampering with his urine sample during an anti-doping drug test in August of that year.
"I am very relieved that this long process has now ended," Rioli said in a statement on the Eagles' website.
"The stress of waiting for the outcome over a long period of time has been difficult for me and my family.
"I realise I have done wrong things and I have learned from it. I am sorry for letting people down. I am looking forward to putting all this behind me and playing footy again soon.
"I would also like to thank David Grace QC, West Coast Eagles Football Club, my management and the AFLPA for their support throughout this process."
Rioli's AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal hearing was held in December last year following three separate breaches of the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code.
He has not played since the Eagles' elimination final win against Essendon in 2019, with the star goalkicker pulled out of West Coast's squad to face Geelong the following week after being provisionally suspended.
The popular Eagle has been the subject of two investigations by Sport Integrity Australia since August 2019, having also tested positive to cannabis after the elimination final win against the Bombers.
West Coast has remained in contact with Rioli throughout his ban, with club officials regularly checking on his wellbeing and players remaining in contact with the talented forward.
Senior officials, including coach Adam Simpson, have expressed frustration at a process that saw him wait 15 months to have his case heard, and a further three months for a result.
West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett said the penalty was a "fair compromise", confirming that Rioli had tampered with his urine sample twice. He said West Coast and the AFL's education processes had "failed" the star forward.
"We have to continue to review the AFL education system," Nisbett said, with the Eagles unaware of Rioli's first urine tampering breach when he committed the same transgression again.
"The education is the same for everyone, but that may not suit people's means of learning.
"That's a difficult thing for all of our players … we need to make sure they all understand how important it is to follow all procedures.
"The AFL's education system has probably failed Willie to some extent, but so did ours, because we pushed this probably more than most because of our history.
"It's an important thing for us to make sure our players are well educated."
Nisbett said June 20 would be the appropriate time for Rioli to return to the club, with the Eagles' players "delighted" when told of the outcome by Nisbett today.
Asked what Rioli's chances of selections were if the club was in the final mix in late August, Nisbett said: "If he's well and if he's looking like he really wants to play and get back into footy as quickly as possible, I'm sure he'll be in the mix come August".
The club will explore its options about putting Rioli, who is contracted until the end of next season, on the inactive list between now and June.
Rioli was represented by David Grace, QC, with the Eagle appearing via video link for his hearing in December, with all proceedings before the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal confidential.
Sport Integrity Australia distanced itself in February from the lengthy wait for Rioli's verdict, saying it had no powers to announce the verdict from the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal.
Only Rioli or his representatives were able to talk about the specifics of his case in public prior to its conclusion.
"Under strict confidentiality provisions imposed by the WADA Code and the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code, the AFL and other parties were unable to make any public comment in relation to this matter until today," the AFL said in a statement.
The Tribunal acknowledged there were "substantial delays in the hearing process" that were not attributed to Rioli.
It was therefore concluded that the period of ineligibility should run from the date of Rioli's initial sample collection on August 20.