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Hypocritical AFL kept illicit drug use secret

Justice Bill Gillard’s 2007 investigation of the drug culture at West Coast does not cast players and officials at the club in a good light.

But you have to wonder how many times this decade-old wound can be reopened before it is accepted that the Eagles’ 2006 flag is horrendously sullied but not tainted.

Was West Coast happy to have the off-field misadventures of players stay under the radar as long as they performed on the field? Justice Gillard is hardly the first or last person to infer that. By 2008, chief executive Trevor Nisbett had a very tenuous hold on his job.

He has said he offered to resign. But that was 2008. By 2011, Nisbett, coach John Worsfold and chairman Mark Barnaba had played key roles in rebuilding and reshaping the player culture. Nisbett had survived the storm.

The evidence we have seen paints the picture of players taking drugs to celebrate their performance in the game just gone, not to enhance performance in the next one.

West Coast players were accorded rock-star status from the time the club was established. Some felt that if they were treated like rock stars, they had the right to behave like them.

It festered over 20 years before Ben Cousins’ downward spiral, the tragic death of Chris Mainwaring, Chad Fletcher’s brush with death in Las Vegas in 2006 and a number of other flirtations with the law and disaster moved the AFL to warn it was about to lower the boom on the Eagles and for the club to act.

The secret findings of a nine year report into the Eagles drug history have been published

But the following should also be said, not in defence of the Eagles, but to highlight a level of hypocrisy — illicit drug use by AFL players and a cover-up culture from the AFL did not start and finish with West Coast, even if the Eagles have been the most extreme example of it that we have seen.

Former Sydney player Dale Lewis in 2002 guessed that 75 per cent of AFL players were using or had used illicit drugs.

And the AFL itself has twice moved to block the publication of names of players who had recorded positive illicit drug tests.

One injunction several years ago protected a number of players at a successful club whose actions indicated a pattern of illicit drug use.

The AFL’s controversial illicit drugs policy — not to be confused with the World Anti-Doping Authority’s performance- enhancing drug policy — is, by its medical approach, a convenient way of keeping the names of drug users secret.

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