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Joseph Naimo


The Australian Football League (AFL) is the premier sporting competi- tion in Australia in terms of capital outlay, breadth of industry associa- tions, public consumption, and arguably cultural significance. The AFL competition is now a domain of specialisations and interests, which pro- vides vast opportunity for both sporting and non-sporting institutions seeking to utilise the game to capitalise on a society of consumption, entertainment and risk. AFL officials expect high standards of their players both on and off the field. These standards are expressed in various forms of Codes and Policies. Off field player misconduct is an ongoing concern not escaping media attention, which is a resounding indication more needs to be done by the AFL to improve responsible player character development. Whether the current education pro- grammes are sufficient to meet the AFL's own expectations is the central issue addressed in this chapter. As it stands AFL governance is deficient on several counts. In this chapter I will focus on three governance deficiencies: firstly, the AFL Illicit Drug Policy (IDP) contains unneces- sary inconsistencies relative to its primary purpose; secondly, the present measures undertaken to ensure players have appropriate education to< achieve the expected character development are far from efficacious and so arguably can be vastly improved; and thirdly, the promotion of live-odds gambling during televised games is culturally problematic and inconsistent with its own demands. The ethical grounds central to this investigation are 'fairness' and 'cultural influence'. In order to resolve some of its governance concerns I will explain why the AFL should be characterised as a practice-community and as such should adopt a comprehensive virtue and value-based compliance ethical education pro- gramme consistent with its own vision and conduct expectation of its players and officials. I will argue that the AFL as a practice community is much more than simply a game, given its cultural influence, commer- cial associations and community programmes.

Keywords: AFL Illicit Drug Policy (IDP); gambling; practice-community; rules; sports-governance; virtue ethics


The temptation, great as it is, for competitors to use performance- enhancing substances, legal or otherwise, in endurance type sports, is disconcerting. The ultimate goal at the elite level of professional sport is winning. Society rewards success in sports with celebrity, status, and favouritism (Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, 2005). The pursuit of excellence in sports from amateur to professional levels is an endeavour to be admired and encouraged. To succeed in competitive sport involves obtaining an 'edge' over the competition. That means maximising health and fitness to participate and compete, and gaining combative advantages over one's opponent while ensuring that endeavour does not breach the underlying principle of fairness. Sometimes, however, the drive to succeed can be so gripping and compelling that a sportsperson can lose sight of what is fair and right.

On February 7, 2013 it was announced during the 'blackest day in Australian sport' press conference that organised crime is responsible for the increasing use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by multiple athletes across the major sporting codes. Since then, however, it is the major football codes that have come under most scrutiny. It was also revealed that the heads of all the main professional and participation sports were briefed regarding the 12-month investigation, code-named Project Aperio, conducted by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), who reported that professional sport in Australia was 'highly vulnerable to organised crime infiltration' (Gordon, 2013). Suspicion of match fixing and manipulation of betting markets is concomitant with the banned performance-enhancing drugs or anti-doping campaign.

Australian Football has a long history. It is an evolving competitive zero-sum contact game/sport played at several levels: professional, ama- teur, and recreational. The Australian Football League (AFL) Commission is the governing body of the elite national Australian rules football compe- tition. The AFL Commission, as the 'keeper of the code', is responsible for the administration of the competition and for the sport of Australian Football in Australia and internationally (AFL Commission, 2013). The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) is a statutory agency operating to 'deter athletes from using prohibited substances and methods through a comprehensive anti-doping programme, encompassing deter- rence, detection and enforcement' (ASADA, 2011-12, p. 11). ASADA is a signatory body to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Convention against Doping in Sport, according to which 'Australia is required to implement anti-doping arrangements consistent with the principles of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA)' (ASADA, 2011-12, p. 18). Ultimately ASADA's purpose, as the Australian representative arm of WADA implementing uniform anti-doping standards, is to protect Australia's sporting integrity by elimi- nating doping (ASADA, 2011-12).

A substance is included on the Code Prohibited List if it meets two of the three criteria defined by the WADA Code, or if it is a potential masking agent. The three criteria are:

1) the substance is performance-enhancing

2) the use of the substance carries health risks for the athlete, and

3) use of the substance violates the spirit of sport. (Orchard, Healey, Fricker, Burke, & White, 2006, pp. 132-133)

The condition of accepting just two of the three criteria means that the WADA Code can ban 'recreational drugs' such as marijuana, despite it not being performance-enhancing and not universally illegal, but can allow the use of a drug like caffeine even when low levels of these drugs are performance-enhancing (Orchard et al., 2006, p. 132). This illustrates the overall concern that fuels the polemic between those endorsing the removal of doping bans and those endorsing anti-doping laws and the agencies that enforce those laws. Anti-doping laws of course extend beyond positive testing for prohibited substances. Any athlete refusing to submit to testing procedures or found tampering with samples or in pos- session and/or trafficking illegal substances can be charged. Moreover, refusal to supply accurate regular information regarding one's where- abouts to authorities should unannounced out-of-competition testing be required can lead to charges. The risk extends to 'doctors who may potentially prescribe or otherwise assist athletes in taking banned drugs may also be subject to doping sanctions and suspended from involvement in elite sport' (Orchard et al., 2006, p. 133). That said, however, the onus of responsibility lies with each player to ensure he/she does not use or administer prohibited substances or prohibited methods, whether or not included as examples in the Code (AFL Anti-Doping Code, 2010, p. 1).

Because of these restrictions the AFL adopts a stance that:

(a) ensures that the AFL Competition is conducted upon the basis of athletic prowess and natural levels of fitness and development and not on any pharmacologically enhanced performance;

(b) protects players from using substances which may cause acute or long-term harm to their bodies;

(c) educates the players to understand the dangers and consequences of the use of performance enhancing substances; and

(d) sets an example for all participants in the sport of Australian Football by condemning the use of performance enhancing substances. (AFL Anti-Doping Code Amended, 2010, p. 2)

In addition to this Code the AFL introduced its own Illicit Drug Policy (IDP) (Three Strike Rules or 'Medical model') in 2005. Until recently, it was championed as a world leader of drugs-in-sport policy. It had succeeded in maintaining a low number of match day and out-of- competition positive tests. The success was thought to be an outcome of combining testing with player education and counselling. A player who fails to adhere to counselling and treatment programmes and has tested positive three times is consequently subject to a financial sanction of $5,000 and a suspension of up to 18 matches (ALF Players Association Rules and Regulations, 2013). AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou during a press conference revealed that in 2012 the number of positive test results dramatically spiked to 26 from 1979 tests conducted (25 stimulants and 1 mixed) compared to 6 positive results from 1489 tests in 2011 (Williams, 2013). Even though the number of players tested in 2012 had increased by 33 per cent the increase in positive results is around 400 per cent. We can add to this number players who self-reported (approximately 25) to prevent incurring a strike against their name. The drug of choice was said to be cocaine (Williams, 2013). Illicit drugs listed in the IDP are also listed in the WADA Code. Even more disconcerting is the fact that these numbers do not include the unknown numbers associated with the controversial performance-enhancing drug scandal that beset the Essendon Football Club throughout 2013 in relation to their 2012 supple- ments programme, which is still under investigation. The sanctions against Essendon to date have included disqualification from the 2013 Finals Series with the loss of Home and Away league ladder points; a twelve month suspension of the Club's Senior Coach, James Hird; plus unprece- dented financial penalties issued against the club for bringing the game into disrepute. The AFL's own performance in this case has been lax in terms of its own requirements that clubs maintain ongoing up to date record-keeping protocols that are made available for regular auditing.

Herein lies the inconsistency with the IDP and the AFL lax governance concern, notwithstanding the fact there has been a partial redressing of these inconsistencies with changes ratified in May 2013. In the following I will argue that the AFL governance deficiencies regarding its IDP inconsis- tencies are threefold: firstly, an inconsistency regarding the three-strike rule non-disclosure component - an offending player's positive testing informa- tion is withheld from his own club until a third strike is recorded; secondly, it is demonstrably unfair that players are summarily afforded privileges not generally extended to other members of the public for illicit doping trans- gressions; and, thirdly, an inconsistency regarding the provision allowing players self-reporting to escape a strike.

Following this, an analysis of the present ineffective measures underta- ken to ensure players have appropriate education to achieve the expected character development will be discussed. I will explain why the AFL should recognise itself as a practice community. In doing so I will further recom- mend that it should adopt a comprehensive virtue and value-based compli- ance ethical education programme consistent with its own vision and conduct expectation of its players and officials as a practical solution to its governance concern. The last section will address the promotion of live-odds gambling during televised games. I will argue that the AFL, by aligning itself with gambling agencies and allowing live-odds gambling promotion during game broadcasts, is both irresponsible and culturally problematic, particularly so since it is inconsistent with its own demands on players and officials.

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