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Whistleblowers begin to break code of silence

TWO AFL players have stepped forward and "blown the whistle", complaining to the AFL of irregular practices at their clubs.

The players are the first to respond to the competition's whistleblower policy first mooted in the wake of the Essendon scandal and the Australian Crime Commission's disturbing findings into match fixing and drug abuse in sport.

AFL chief Andrew Demetriou revealed the move by the two players, which took place in recent weeks – although he refused to detail the nature of their information or their chosen source. "Since the ACC findings a couple of players have already come forward," said Demetriou. "They both said, 'I wanted to come forward before but I didn't'."

The move comes despite doubts raised by past and present players over whether footballers would be prepared to dob in teammates or club officials to protect the integrity of their sport. Demetriou described as "garbage" the anti-dobbing culture and pointed to the Essendon scenario to support his point.

"It's garbage," he said. "It's not the 1960s or the 1970s. We're talking about potential funding cuts, millions of dollars in lost sponsorship, brand damage and potential litigation against board members – that's to use the analogy of what's happening at Essendon at the moment. If that situation is not a wake-up call I'm not sure what is and to their credit the clubs seem to understand that.

"All the rule changes we announced are in train. The whistleblower service will protect individuals who come forward, guarantee confidentiality and offer reduced sanctions to those who put their hands up and in some cases no sanctions."

Demetriou has reiterated his determination that players and club officials take ownership in the protection of their code. The AFL Players Association boss Matt Finnis has held his own meeting with playing groups around Australia. Finnis has acted in close consultation with senior Victoria policeman and match review panellist Emmett Dunne in a bid to create a safe environment in which players with concerns are comfortable to place themselves.

"The policy is the easy part," said Finnis. "It is imperative that a player has a positive experience and I've been in close consultation with the AFL's Brett Clothier in this."

"My message to the players has been that if something is a threat to our sport and a threat to our livelihood we must act. If they're not comfortable with who they should go to I've advised them to come to the players association as well," said Demetriou. "This is a broader issue of integrity and internal methods at football clubs. The days of not speaking up if you know of your club or teammate cheating or breaking the rules are over."

While Demetriou said several clubs had proved difficult to deal with regarding investigations in the past he agreed the Kangaroos had not handled the Lachie Hansen concussion investigation appropriately.

The prevailing view is that Clothier and his former boss Adrian Anderson were unable to gather sufficient evidence despite their concerns that the Kangaroos may have sent a concussed player back onto the ground.

"I'm sure North Melbourne are not the only ones to have adopted that practice," Demetriou said.

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