FRUSTRATED by not knowing whether their players have positive drug strikes under the existing system, a number of AFL clubs have resorted to covert intelligence gathering on their players' drug use, using current and former police and other means.
As the AFL considers the thorny question of whether clubs should know about drug use earlier than the third strike, it has emerged that some clubs have taken matters into their own hands, using not only former and current police contacts, but checking with hotels and nightclubs to verify their players' nocturnal activities and even employing private detectives for surveillance in extreme cases.
A number of clubs have confirmed that, unable to know whether their players are using illicit drugs under the AFL policy, they have chosen to ''risk manage'' by gathering as much information as possible on some players. Much of it, they said, was merely ''verification'' of tips, but they also wanted to know about potential problems before they arose.
These clubs contend that the illicit drugs policy - which keeps them out of the loop and confines knowledge of a positive test to the club doctors (and AFL medicos) - has encouraged them to take these ''underground'' measures to verify whether players are using drugs.
Clubs have confronted players with the information about drug use that they have gained from various sources. Senior officials at some clubs say that they would much prefer to avoid ''accusing'' players, that if they knew about the drug strikes they could have a more honest and open dialogue with the relevant player.
Clubs say they cannot rely on players being truthful about their drug use. One official said: ''Clubs are not relying on the players telling [clubs] themselves that they are taking drugs.''
Clubs believe that a player suspected of drug taking would be better served if his drug use was known to the club, thus creating a more collaborative way of dealing with the issue rather than one of suspicion and confrontation.
The use of private detectives, sources said, was rare and was not considered as effective as using police contacts, because current and ex-police had the ability to gain superior information on what players were doing and the specifics of the drug scene. One club source said ''verification'' of players using drugs had become more prevalent over the past 12 months.
Clubs say they have huge networks - including supporters - that often provide them with information about their players that they felt duty-bound to check out. On occasion, however, they also wanted to know if they had a problem with drugs or other potential ills that could damage the club and the player.
The clubs' push to be informed about the second positive drug tests, or ''strike'', under the illicit drugs code was the major reason for the AFL's drugs summit on Wednesday, when club chief executives heard presentations from AFL doctors and experts.
AFL medical officer Dr Peter Harcourt told the meeting the majority of players who recorded drug strikes had not bought the drugs.
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