Time for Sense: Drugs in Sport

An Open Letter

As experts in the fields of medicine, drug dependency and law enforcement, we wish to make abundantly clear our positions on a number of matters in relation to the current ‘illicit drugs in sport’ debate.  We believe that the AFL has been a leader in responding to illicit drugs. Its policies in relation to illicit drug use among players are probably as effective as can be achieved in a world where some young adults are exposed to, and will experiment with, illicit drug taking and the drug culture.  Their policy clearly sends a message that drug taking is dangerous and not acceptable.

  • We further believe that the prime objective of any ‘drugs in sport’ policy must be the health and welfare of the player concerned.  Where this conflicts with another objective of the club concerned, the AFL or the government, the player’s welfare must be paramount.
  • We commend and support the AFL and the AFL Players’ Association for taking a reasoned, sensible and strong leadership stance in relation to these issues, and for resisting the pressures from populist quarters to use such issues for partisan ends.  Such populist approaches ignore the mass of evidence that humane harm minimisation and treatment approaches to issues of illicit drug use are far more effective at diminishing drug-related harm to the individual and the community than are punitive ‘name and shame’ approaches.
  • The AFL’s policy is, in fact, in line with current community practices towards people found to be using illicit drugs – they are most often diverted towards the drug treatment system and away from the criminal justice system. This approach is the policy of all governments in Australia, because the evidence is that it is far more effective in dealing with drug use and harm from illicit drugs than are punitive measures.
  • The blurring of the distinction between the use of performance-enhancing drugs and the use of illicit recreational drugs is potentially forcing upon the AFL and other sporting bodies roles for which they have no mandate or capacity – roles as law enforcement agencies.  As good citizens, bodies like the AFL have the responsibility of deterring crime where possible, and reporting crime where appropriate – it is not their role to seek out and detect crime.

Rather than being criticised, the AFL should be applauded by governments, community leaders and the media for their approach.  For those of us at the coalface of treating drug addiction and developing policy, watching the criticism is frustrating.

We congratulate the AFL and the AFL Players’ Association, and encourage and support them in retention of the AFL Illicit Drug Policy.

  • Associate Professor Robert Ali, Chair, Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine, Royal Australasian College of Physicians
  • Sam Biondo, Executive Officer, Victorian Alcohol & Drug Association
  • Donna Bull, former CEO Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia; Specialist Technical Adviser on AOD matters for the Australian Defence Force and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority
  • Professor Nick Crofts, Director, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre
  • Professor Jon Currie, Professor of Addiction Medicine, St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne
  • Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, Principal Research Fellow, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Wayne Hall, University of Queensland School of Population Health; Vice-President, Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia
  • Professor Margaret Hamilton, AO, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Ian Kronborg, Director, Drug and Alcohol Services, Western Health (DASWest).
  • Dr Bruce Mitchell, President, Sports Medicine Australia
  • Professor Rob Moodie, Professor of Global Health, The Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne
  • David Murray, Executive Director, Youth Substance Abuse Service
  • The Hon Alastair Nicholson, AO RFD QC, National Patron, Australian Drug Foundation; Honorary Professorial Research Fellow, Department of Political Science, Criminology and Sociology, University of Melbourne.
  • Professor David Penington, AO, Former Vice Chancellor, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Robert Power, Director, Centre for Harm Reduction, Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health
  • Professor Robin Room, Chair of Social Alcohol Research, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne; Director, AER Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre
  • Daryl Smeaton, CEO, Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation
  • Bill Stronach, CEO, Australian Drug Foundation (retired 2008)
  • David Templeman, CEO (acting), Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia
  • Professor Ian W Webster, AO, Emeritus Professor of Community Medicine and Public Health, University of New South Wales.
  • Professor Steve Wesselingh, Director, Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health
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