Peter Harcourt (far right) has been rebuked by the AFL

Peter Harcourt (far right) has been rebuked by the AFL. Photo: Pat Scala

The AFL has moved to clarify comments made by its medical director at a Zurich conference, insisting players are not "retired" by the league for illicit drugs problems but rather made their own decisions.

Peter Harcourt had revealed during an anti-doping conference last November, but only publicly reported last week, that the AFL had temporarily withdrawn three players with illicit drug problems from competition, and "retired" another three who were unable to control their problems since the policy was introduced a decade ago.

AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said the illicit drug policy was "a voluntary policy that relies upon the co-operation of players and clubs".

"Confidentiality is a cornerstone of the policy and so we cannot provide detail about individual cases - Dr Harcourt’s briefing in Zurich about the AFL’s illicit drug policy drew upon information already provided to clubs and players," Keane said on Wednesday.

"We have consistently stated that the IDP is based on a medical model and its key focus is to identify players abusing illicit drugs and to support them and change their behaviour through early intervention and treatment services.

"To clarify, the AFL does not force anyone to retire from the game - the wording of the presentation was misleading.

"Players make their own decisions about their playing careers and sometimes those decisions are based on advice regarding their health and welfare, including consultation with our medical directors and the player’s own health experts, or a decision made on the basis they can no longer make the commitment required to be a professional footballer in our competition.

"In the cases cited, the players retired for health reasons; this is a medical model – a player’s health is the overriding consideration."

Former Hawthorn midfielder Travis Tuck, the only AFL player to have had three strikes and been suspended, may have fallen outside of the group of three.

Keane reiterated that players "identified" under the policy were subjected to target testing as part of their treatment program.

"The changes to the IDP have already been widely publicised. They include the capability to act upon players judged to be recalcitrant," he said.

"Players identified by the AFL medical directors of acting or displaying an attitude contrary to the objectives and spirit of the IDP will be directed to undergo a more intense education and counselling program and will be named to their club CEO if there is no change in behaviour."

Players originally had just had doctor-patient privilege. Players can now only self-report once throughout their career to avoid a strike.

The changes came about after Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert warned in November 2012 of "volcanic behaviour" of some players during the off-season.

Speaking on Fox Footy's Open Mike this week, Pert said the industry at that stage "had been brushing off the rumours and not following it up".

"There was very poor understanding and education, I think, throughout the clubs," he said.

"Now we have the clubs involved in the process, we actually have the loopholes closed so we have sent a very strong message to players, not only AFL players, but players that are playing the game throughout Australia, that we won't accept it."

Harcourt told the Zurich conference that three players had had psychotic reactions to illicit substances, five had taken illicit substances to deal with certain psychiatric symptoms, and the AFL had opted to "temporarily withdraw" another three players "because of substance abuse issues that needed to be treated".

He said another five had shown "attitudinal and personality type issues, but the bulk are just silly, risk-taking behaviour".