AFL

AFL would become 'laughing stock of world sports' if it separated from WADA

The AFL would become the "laughing stock of world sport" and severely handicap itself in the battle for the hearts of kids looking to take up sport at grassroots level if the league decided to separate itself from the WADA code.

That is the firm view of former WADA president John Fahey, who on Monday painted a bleak picture for the AFL if it allowed itself to be swept up in the growing push for the sport to create its own self-policing drug code.

In the wake of the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to ban the "Essendon 34" for a year on an anti-doping offence, the AFL Players Association said they wanted to seriously consider walking away from WADA and instead create their own "fit-for-purpose" code in consultation with the AFL.

On the same day that AFLPA boss Paul Marsh made those strong statements, AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick also said the CAS decision had "invited a discussion" about how the code applied to teams sports, and that the league would "accept that invitation".

Collingwood director of football Neil Balme was the latest industry figure to voice a view that the AFL should not be a part of the "WADA program", and questioned the nature of the appointments to the CAS tribunal.

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But not only did Fahey strongly refute the suggestion that the CAS was anything but independent, the former NSW Premier also warned the AFL against putting themselves above a system that all major international sporting leagues – outside of the US – adhered to.

"Should the AFL be a member of all of this process? Well, 680 associations around the world have signed up to the WADA code. The AFL is just one of those 680," he said on SEN radio on Monday.

"The Australian government is one of about 180 who have ratified a United Nations convention that incorporates the WADA code and what it's designed to do us is to give a uniform outcome for matters relating to drugs, to cheating… in whatever the sport might be no matter where the offence takes place.

"I would think they [the AFL] would become the laughing stock of sport around the world if they [separated themselves].

"Why are they different to 679 other associations who believe you shouldn't cheat in sport?"

Just as crucially, Fahey said the Australian government would have no choice but to stop funding the sport at grassroots level if the league went rogue.

That would make the fight against other major sports in Australia like soccer and cricket – the latter of which has enjoyed huge success with the Big Bash League this summer – even more challenging.

Fahey said the funding, also used for ground re-developments, was worth "several millions" to the AFL every year.

"That would have to stop," he said of the funding.

"You would have to say to yourself why is the AFL, as one of those 680 associations around the world, why are they different? Because they got a [CAS] judgement that, in my view, was eminently correct?"

Fahey agreed that the argument that the AFL had a special culture, where the player put his trust in a medical officer and therefore absolved himself from responsibility of what substances went into his body, was flawed.

"It is strict liability to the player everywhere in the world. Every AFL player should know that, and if they didn't know it before the Essendon outcome, I hope they know it now," he said.

Fahey warned the AFL against following the example of major US sports - like the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League baseball – who are the only sporting associations around the world who don't use the WADA code.  

"They are privately owned, and as a result of being privately owned, they make their own rules," he said.

"There is no pressure that can be brought to bear by the government.

"The United States government has ratified the United Nations convention, as has Australia, but it doesn't control independent, privately-owned sports."

Fahey also shot down the notion that the Essendon case was too "complex" for a CAS tribunal to hear or for ASADA to investigate, and was particularly strong on the issue of the CAS independence.

"It's an independent, respected tribunal - and respected worldwide," he said.

"The court itself makes the appointments, from very eminent barristers and retired judges around the world."  

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