Dear Santa, this wish comes from the too-hard list
THE Christmas wish list of AFL players' boss Matt Finnis has mysteriously landed on my desk. It reads: ''Dear Santa, would you please give me an Illicit Drug Code that makes everyone happy in 2013? And would you give me a footy world in which everyone understands the code? Or failing the first two, would you please just make the whole thing go away because it's driving me mad. Yours in desperation, Matt.''
Of course, you'd have to believe in elves at the bottom of the garden to think Santa will deliver on any of Matt's wishes.
The AFL's Illicit Drug Code continues to bring to football the best and worst of publicity. On one hand it's seen to symbolise the sort of brave initiatives and social responsibility with which the modern AFL likes to be identified. On the other, it continues to haunt the game because there is an impression that the players are getting off lightly; that the tail is wagging the dog. And the players' association and its members continue to wear the flak.
This is unfair, particularly for the players, who didn't need to take on this code in the first place. They did it because they were persuaded to the view - or the AFLPA executive was - that they should accept testing for illicit drugs in the interests of their membership.
There is a strong argument they shouldn't have, but such are the politics this horse bolted long ago.
To embrace the code was to compromise the privacy of every one of the PA's members and to thrust every one into uncharted territory. As has subsequently been revealed, when such territory is explored unforeseen difficulties inevitably emerge.
One difficulty is the gradual build-up of pressure over the three-strikes aspect of the policy. It began early and never ceased. Clubs want the policy hardened to give them more information on positive tests. There is no likelihood of that pressure easing, and it grows by the season.
Another difficulty has been the confusion in so many minds between the necessary WADA code relating to performance-enhancing drugs, and the illicit drug code. It appears that many who follow the game simply can't tell the difference.
Even Gerry Ryan, respected for his contribution to a number of sports, stumbled into this trap during the week. In a discussion about the relative achievements of football and cycling in the fight against drugs, the backer of cycling's GreenEDGE team referred to the AFL's ''massive drug problems''. Yet any discussion about cycling and drugs clearly relates to the performance-enhancing variety. The only AFL drug problem on the radar is illicit drug use.
Lately, we are being dog-whistled by clubs - Collingwood in particular - that there is a rising problem with illicit drugs. This raises consciousness of the possibility that there will one day be a player tragedy and the clubs will say they might have been able to prevent it if they had known more of the player's circumstances. And everyone will agree. And it will be hard to argue with them.
Which leaves the players between a rock and a hard place. It also gives an activist club administrator, and for that read Gary Pert, significant power in this debate because these circumstances can be used to heighten the PA's discomfort.
The alternative for Pert is to consider the players' position less superficially and to recognise that tipping a bucket on Finnis - as he recently did - is not only unfair, it is ungrateful to the players and disingenuous. The fact is that what we know as the AFL's illicit drug code is a covenant. It was achieved by agreement and the only group required to give anything in reaching it was the players' association. What the players have given is more than anyone was entitled to expect of them.
It is also far more than could have been foreseen when the code was enacted. It has exposed the players to the extent that confidential information about individuals has twice fallen into the hands of journalists. The players are subject to ongoing and ill-considered vilification over the three-strikes aspect of the policy. They are constantly misrepresented due to confusion between the AFL's dual-drug codes. And they are now having tests performed to see if they have played up on holiday.
Yet it's the players who are constantly portrayed as overindulged villains. If some of them are, perhaps the clubs need to improve their efforts in the areas of education and life skills.
It isn't fair and I reckon if Santa had his druthers he'd grant Matt Finnis his wish. But he knows it's too complicated even for him.