Moving goalposts ... alcohol is AFL chief Andrew Demetriou's No.1 enemy in the code's controversial war against drug use by players. Photo: Pat Scala
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou has conceded that the league ''dropped the ball'' in dealing with alcohol abuse by players, as it emerged confidentiality was still an issue in informing clubs about illicit drug problems before a third strike.
After a day-long meeting at Etihad Stadium between the AFL bosses, club chief executives, medical experts, police and drug experts, there were few answers but all parties appeared open to subtle changes to the controversial policy.
This included the closing of the loophole that allows players to self-report, ensuring they escape testing and a positive strike.
''I am pretty certain from what I heard today about the self-notification, that is something that can be addressed pretty quickly,'' Demetriou said of the tactic that has been used by some players.
However, it emerged that alcohol was a major factor in drug use, and the AFL will look to address this by working with its major beer sponsor. ''The data shows in 96 or 97 per cent of our positive tests that alcohol has been at the forefront of that,'' Demetriou said. ''Alcohol has been at the forefront of players being involved in violence or other issues.
''I think we have probably dropped the ball as a code whilst concentrating on illicit drugs, whilst concentrating on respect and responsibility and all the things we try and do in these policies. This is an area we need to work harder on.''
The key plank of the drugs policy - players having three strikes - will remain. Players will still enter rehabilitation after two strikes, almost ensuring there will be few, if any, positive third strikes. However, clubs remain convinced they need to know a player has tested positive at least after a second strike. As it stands, only the club doctor is made aware of a first or second strike.
This point will be one of many to be discussed by a working party of club chief executives Gary Pert, Ian Robson, Travis Auld, the AFL Players' Association and drug experts.
''As a club, after a third strike, we are seeing that as too late to actually give assistance,'' Pert said. ''The clubs are very clear that they see they can play a role if they have certain amounts of information at appropriate times.
''If the club gets that information, you need to be trained and educated and prepared to deal with that information. These are things that we can't decide over night.''
AFL Players' Association boss Matt Finnis stressed the importance of confidentiality. ''I am prepared to consider that in good faith given the way it's been brought to the table,'' he said. ''But it's clear from the players there are some fundamental pillars to the policy which are grounded in welfare first and confidentiality, which the players hold dear to their agreement to this. We need to work through that.''
The working party will look at several issues, including whether clubs can pay for their own extra testing. There will be discussion on whether to extend the off-season period, in the hope of reducing the ''volcanic behaviour'' Pert has raised.
Demetriou also revealed several clubs were not adhering to a key plank of the collective bargaining agreement in allowing players a set day off a week to improve their work-life balance, with even some club chief executives unaware of what demanding requirements their football department had set.
Almost 1500 drug tests were done last year. The possibility of increasing the number of hair tests of players during the off-season will also be an agenda item for the working party. Hair testing, which does not count towards a strike, is used to determine whether a player should be subjected to urine target testing during the season.