The Herald Sun has proudly hit the midnight online presses and is no doubt rushing around preparing a front page declaring the drug culture at Collingwood is exposed. More troublesome than prevalent drug use in the AFL, however, is the breach of confidentiality by someone involved in the entire sordid affair.
It is reported that at least four Collingwood players voluntarily self-reported recreational drug use near the end of the 2012 AFL season and in doing so, escaped the sanction of a first strike and possible repercussions of their breach of the rules. It is also reported that players from other clubs have been taking advantage of the loophole of self-reporting illicit substance use.
Andrew Demetriou has expressed a desire that the ‘loophole’, which allows players to self-disclose and escape sanctions and strikes against their names, should be closed. While drug use is a problem throughout society in general as well as the AFL, what is more concerning is the leak of confidential medical information to a media source.
This is not the first instance of people betraying the trust of an organisation by speaking to a media contact. In more recent times, there was the story broken about the gentleman’s agreement in Kurt Tippett’s contract and the alleged salary cap breaches by Adelaide, then there was the revelation of Melbourne’s ‘vault’ meetings during the AFL’s tanking investigation.
Journalists have multiple sources from which they get their information before they publish an article, particularly one which walks a fine line of slandering people’s names without sufficient proof. This exposes the fact that Mark Robinson, in making the decision to name Collingwood and the number of players, has been privy to confidential medical information.
This breach in confidentiality, whether the source is a club medical officer or an investigator for the AFL, is one that cannot be ignored or taken lightly. The AFLPA should be demanding answers from both the AFL and the Collingwood Football Club as to where this information came from and how it was released to a journalist, and in turn, to the public.
While there is an expectation that players will adhere to the strict standards required of a professional footballer, they should also be granted the same privacy in regards to their medical information that anyone else is. Information about drug use, depression or any other underlying issues should be protected from investigative reporters.
There is no argument that drug use should be investigated and sanctioned where appropriate. However, it is not at all appropriate for a major paper to become aware of issues that should be confidential, especially in regards to a player’s medical information.
Media attention will be directed squarely at Collingwood and at the AFL’s historic summit on drug and substance abuse in football, but all the organisations would be well served by asking the tougher question of who is leaking this information to the press, and why.