Carlton leader Chris Judd believes the game's standing should be placed ahead of traditional loyalties. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
CONCERNED and angry AFL players have already privately begun to rally around the competition's call to report drug cheats.
Despite some public misgivings aired this week by footballers admitting they would struggle to dob in teammates, Fairfax Media understands players from several clubs have already vowed internally to work to rid the game of performance-enhancing drugs.
At Carlton, that view has been endorsed by Chris Judd, one of several club leaders now firm in the belief that the game's standing should be placed ahead of traditional loyalties.
While the findings of the Australian Crime Commission suggest the AFL's issues with doping lie on a significantly lower level than those in the NRL, the investigation into Essendon has intensified the push to break with tradition in a bid to clean up the game. ''I know there's strong feeling about this,'' said AFL players boss Matt Finnis. ''I'm not surprised that there's a strong level of resentment about the collateral damage of drug cheating being identified with their sport. What everyone's had a strong sense of last week is that if drug testing is not the be-all and end-all to catch drug cheats, then the sport has to rely on evidence from those involved.''
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou has urged players since the ACC report was released to come forward with information. ''I have no concern about any cultural change,'' said Demetriou on Thursday. ''It's long overdue.''
The AFL Commission meeting on Monday will see the competition move to establish a framework for a ''Whistleblower Service'' or ''Safe Harbour'' to provide a central body for players and other club officials to report drug cheats and other behaviour contrary to the game's rules or welfare. ''You need to have some comfort that if you do make a report your anonymity will be preserved,'' said Demetriou.
''There would also be a provision for reductions in sanctions in some cases of players or officials confessing certain offences.''
However Demetriou's campaign to change the anti-dobbing culture has continued to meet obstacles this week. Four-time premiership coach Leigh Matthews said on 3AW on Thursday that no player would dob in a drug-cheating teammate on the eve of a vital game. Matthews said if a player or coach believed such reporting would cost a premiership, then that would not happen.
Two other players interviewed in recent days - North Melbourne's Jack Ziebell and Geelong's Allen Christensen - said they would report a player suspected of taking performance-enhancing drugs from another club but would ''have to think about'' reporting a teammate.
But Finnis urged the AFL not to rush the establishment of the service which Demetriou and his chairman Mike Fitzpatrick promised last week as part of a series of major reforms.
''You don't rush these things or you compromise the co-operation of people,'' said Finnis. ''What we are looking at is the prosecution of those who put their own interests ahead of the game but it's a cultural issue we are dealing with to get there.
''It's got to be done professionally and we have to get the detail right. We need players to be confident if they make a report that something will be done about it and the confidence that they will be protected, just as is the case in law. You absolutely want to promote trust and confidence within a club and between employees, but that should not compromise a broader recognition of ethical standards and morality.''
The AFL's attempts to gather information from witnesses within clubs has long been an issue for the competition and last year proved frustrating for the AFL as it attempted to unravel an allegation that North Melbourne had sent a concussed player back onto the field.