Illicit or illegal drugs and sports have been related since the very start of competitive sports. But ever increasing competitiveness gave birth to the idea of cheating and increasing knowledge suggested the use of drugs to give one's energy and stamina that extra boost necessary for a win. As money began pouring into sports and sporting events the need and desire to succeed led to a steady rise in drug use among sportsmen. Different anti-doping and prevention policies were born and one of them was Australian Football League's 'Illicit Drug Policy'
Drug testing began with the revelation of drug use in the sport of cycling. But it soon spread to other sports as well. IAAF was the first ever sporting federation to making doping illegal and the decision got tremendous support after the death of two cyclists. The various sets of restrictions placed by different sports bodies indicate the presence of this menace in other sports as well. Star athlete Marion Jones' career ended due to the disclosure that she had used drugs for most of it. But the most horrific example is of the East German Olympic team who were fed illicit drugs under the label of vitamins by their team doctors. The team won many medals and much recognition as world class athletes. However, they suffered from after effects ranging from psychological problems, to cancers, organ damage and even infertility. Carole Nitsche, a part of the team, was given injections by her team doctor since the age of 13. She was the first ever international athlete who returned all her medals and also requested that her name be removed from swimming records. Track legend, Carl Lewis claimed in 2000, "People know the sport is dirty, the sport is so driven by records." He also said that there was no proper 'commitment' to eradicate the drug problem from sports. In 2003, a U.S. anti-doping committee named some 100 sportsmen who were guilty of using performance enhancing drugs and Lewis was one of them (CBC 2003).
The Australian Football League is one of the few sporting associations that are wholly committed to the welfare of its players and purging the game of doping instances. The league drew up its 'Anti doping policy' in 1999 and followed it up with an 'Illicit drug policy' in 2005. The policy is a continuation of the anti-doping code and is in compliance with the Australian governments harm minimization laws (Shawdon 2011). This means that where WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) leans towards reprimands as a way to eliminate drug use in sports, AFL takes a rehabilitative stance. AFL adjoins great value to its players and it first and foremost concern is their welfare (Denham 2010). Therefore the policy is designed in such a way that it provides AFL athlete's three chances for reformation. It is popularly known as the 'three strikes policy'. The policy rules that all sportsmen have three chances to quit drug use and reform themselves. If a player's first two tests are positive the result of the tests is shared only with the team doctor. Neither the coach, nor the manager of the club is informed. His name is kept secret; he is issued a warning and provided with counseling services to help him recover. The player is not awarded any punishment or levied a fine. Punishment is handed down on the third offense and his name is also disclosed to the media and public (Hendry & Boys 2009).
The feedback regarding the policy is not all positive, media and public both believe that AFL is being 'soft' with the players. These sections of the Australian society believe that the three strike policy is an official permission for players to commit this offense. They see this as an opportunity for players to become smarter than the system and cheat it. Players have been known to cheat drug tests in different ways and the people fear that AFL's drug policy provides them the opportunity to hide behind it. The public's arguments and opinions are supported by the recent drug use admission of Australian footballer Ben Cousins. He admitted to have using drugs for quite a while and that he did not test positive on a single test. In the opinion of many football loving fans, politicians etc. AFL is only trying save its reputation with this policy, it is trying to look good while doing nothing to purge the game of this evil (Colman 2010).
However, the policy, as popular belief goes is not based on personal opinions, but solid medical facts and advice of several of the country's leading drug experts and doctors. These experts conducted a research in to the effects of cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana and drug dependency among sportsmen. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and AFL also carried out some 915 tests of their own over a period of two years. They used the results of both to draft the policy and included a clause about player confidentiality on the recommendation of doctors. The clause is meant to provide psychological help to these sportsmen (Denham 2010). The Australian government has a policy of 'minimizing harm' from drugs which has been incorporated into AFL's Illicit drug policy.
Another fact that supports AFL is that it is more thorough in its testing procedure than WADA. WADA conducts tests only on match days or during competitions. But AFL has an out- of- competition testing procedure as well. It is one of the only three organizations that conduct this kind of testing. AFL is very progressive about its drug policy and keeps revising it regularly. The policy underwent a reformation in 2010 when hair testing was introduced, a test conducted immediately after the players returned from vacations. This ensures that players won't use banned substances even in their off time (AFL.com 2010). Another aspect that signals to AFL's massive success is that Australian Footballers voluntarily agreed to holiday testing and fully support all efforts made to eradicate drug use from the sport (AFL.com 2012).
The AFL believes that the drug problem is not limited to sportsmen only, it is a social evil infecting the whole society, making it fairly easy for players to get induced into using them due to peer pressure. Therefore the long-term goal behind this policy is education of players and public, to send a message that drugs are not only illegal but harmful for the human body. This would help ensure that youngsters entering the game are pre-warned to avoid this temptation. The policy itself is very simple in structure and diction. It is easy to understand and very terse.
Statistical data proves that AFL has been successful in decreasing the number of positive tests in the last six years of testing. A former AFLPA Chief Executive Brendon Gale also confirms that the incidence of illicit drug use is lower than it was in 2005, when the policy was first implemented (Lane 2011). The statistics show that in 2005 the rate of positive tests was around 4.03% but in the year 2011 it dropped to 0.36%. In one year from 2009 to 2010, the number of positive results has fallen from 14 to 6. The numbers reflect that AFL has been very effective so far in bringing down the amount of drug taking going around in Australian football. It has made at least one test a year compulsory for all footballers and increased the total n umber of tests from 1200 to 1500. The hair testing routine was begun as a preventive measure against as it detects drugs even 3 months after the use. The association then intends to send a person testing positive for counseling and further testing (AFL 2010).
The latest variations and modifications in the policy and the increase in testing is…
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