Drugs in sport: Testing possible for local leagues EFL, SFL

LOCAL football leagues will have the option to request drug tests for players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs this season.

The tests, which would be done by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, were made available to leagues at an AFL conference with community football administrators last October.

Both the Southern Football League and Eastern Football League confirmed to the Weekly that all players were under the AFL's Anti-Doping Code and ASADA could be called in or arrive at random to test local footballers.

Both leagues also said they had not had any doping or performance-enhancing drug complaints raised about their players but were concerned about the issue and were educating clubs and club officials on the matter.

On Thursday, the Australian Crime Commission released an interim report about crime in sport that stated performance-enhancing drug (PED) use, organised crime connections and the grooming of players for match-fixing were problems at elite level.

At "sub-elite" level, the report expressed concerns about players getting PEDs and other substances online and using them during training.

The SFL and EFL believe their players and clubs are informed about the risks of PEDs and have made it clear that local football is in a different situation from elite level athletes.

SFL chief executive David Cannizzo said that for the past three years administrators like himself were educated on PEDs and other issues by AFL Victoria.

The league in turn provided education to its key club officials on the AFL rules and key areas like drugs, he said.

"One of the things that came out of our last conference was that ASADA offered their services to all AFL football communities.

"So if we would like to request someone to be tested, then we can make contact with AFL Victoria and have that service at our disposal.

"It's reassuring to know we have access to the same testing facilities as the AFL."

Leagues will also be supplied with further educational resources, most likely a DVD, which cover the anti-doping rules and how they relate to local football.

EFL chief executive Rob Sharpe said his league sent out repeated warnings to their clubs and players on the dangers of doping or attempting to buy a product that may contain a banned substance. "We put out a message to clubs pre-Christmas telling them it was important players understand that at our level, or any level anywhere, they come under ASADA," he said.

Sharpe said players were also warned about the ASADA's investigative powers, especially when looking into products bought on the internet or from overseas.

The ACC report also stated there was a possibility underworld figures could "groom" young, emerging players and later use them to provide information or fix elite level matches.

"Overseas experience has demonstrated that organised criminal groups involved in match fixing are increasingly targeting sub-elite athletes due to the ease with which these individuals can be 'bought', the lower levels of scrutiny from integrity authorities at sub-elite completions, and the potential long-term value of these athletes to the criminal group," the report stated.

Several EFL players have moved into the Victorian Football League, then have been drafted to the AFL in past seasons. Both the EFL and SFL send a number of players to the TAC Cup competition each year.

Sharpe said he was confident players at both TAC Cup and VFL level were being well educated on the risks of performance-enhancing drugs and other threats.

"I would hope that when going through programs like the TAC Cup and VFL — which players have to move through to get to AFL level — they get an awful lot of education, which I'm told they do.

"I would be more concerned if they weren't getting that education."

The Weekly approached TAC Cup clubs Oakleigh Chargers and Dandenong Stingrays for comment but both declined to speak publicly, pointing to a press release from AFL Victoria.

But the Weekly understands all TAC Cup teams currently educate their players about the dangers of PED use and players will get extra education on this topic in the coming months.

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