Australian Professional Footballers’ Association Executive Chairman Brendan Schwab today issued the following statement in relation to the debate over appropriate drugs policies in Australian sports:

“Like society at large, the PFA considers the issue of possible drug use by Australian footballers to be one of the most complex issues facing players and the game today.  Expressions such as “zero tolerance” and “name and shame” are simplistic and unhelpful.  Australian football’s current approach is clear but, as with all complex matters, the subject of ongoing review and dialogue between FFA and the PFA.

It is, of course, important to distinguish between two types of drug use: (1) performance enhancing drugs; and (2) illicit drug use which may involve the taking of substances which are not performance enhancing, but which are illegal.  Additionally, Australian footballers are bound by codes of conduct which prevent them from engaging in behaviour which brings the sport of football into disrepute.

“Performance Enhancing Drugs

“Members of the PFA are bound by a comprehensive anti-doping code developed by FFA to meet the requirements of WADA and the Australian government.  Players are tested both in and out of competition.  Overseas players are also subject to anti-doping regimes in their own country, resulting in international players being subject to anti-doping regulation at national, continental and FIFA levels.

“The PFA fully supports efforts to ensure that football remains free from doping.  However, the PFA strongly disagrees with aspects of WADA’s approach, which imposes mandatory penalties of between one and two years even in cases where players can establish that a positive test result had nothing to do with the enhancement of sporting performance.  Obvious examples are where a positive test result is the outcome of inadvertent or therapeutic use.

“The PFA will continue to lobby for reform of anti-doping regulation to ensure individual case management and the right of a player to a hearing on its merits.  This involves the removal of mandatory penalties, which is also the preferred approach of FIFA.

“Illicit Drugs

“The issue of illicit drugs is complex.  As a matter of policy, the PFA is anxious to avoid players from being exposed to the risks and dangers associated with them.  This is best done through effective leadership and education, and forms part of existing player education programs.  However, the PFA believes sports authorities should only play a limited role in regulating and testing players for illicit drugs.  In most jurisdictions, illicit drugs are illegal which means any action by a sport to test for these substances raises very important issues of privacy and criminal law.

“The PFA would not agree to expose players to the possible violation of their rights in these areas without comprehensive assurances that any prospective policy and associated testing regime were extremely well resourced, securely administered and based on the principles of education, counseling and rehabilitation.  It is clear that both the Australian Football League and the AFL Players’ Association have a shared commitment to this approach, which is an example that warrants careful consideration by other sports which have the resources to match the AFL’s investment in the key areas of research, testing, security, education and counseling.

“Role of Codes of Conduct

“Presently, players are subject to onerous codes of conduct which empower FFA to take action against a player who brings the game into disrepute.  These codes may cover instances where drug use has reflected on the integrity of the sport.

“Generally speaking, a punitive approach is not preferred, as it may compromise the game’s ability to handle the health implications of drug use.  Where it directly impacts on the game, however, such an approach may be justified.  The key is for each case to be dealt with on its merits in accordance with its own facts and circumstances.

“The PFA has raised these matters in current discussions with Football Federation Australia for a new collective bargaining agreement.”