Joel Smith looks set to be available for selection in Round 1 of the 2024 AFL season despite being caught with cocaine in his system after a match in August.
The Melbourne forward has been provisionally suspended for returning the positive result following an in-competition doping test.
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Under the AFL’s anti-doping code, which follows World Anti-Doping Authority protocols, Smith is facing a maximum four-year ban.
But rule changes introduced in 2021 will allow the 27-year-old to serve only part of the pre-season on the sidelines if he can prove the drug was used as a ‘substance of abuse’ and not on matchday for performance reasons.
In that case Smith would receive a three-month ban, which would be further reduced to one month if he completes a treatment program.
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NRL player Brent Naden was the first high-profile footballer to benefit from the shift following a positive test after the 2020 grand final.
Smith will now lean on the rule change to avoid missing any games, aided by the delay between test, result and notification.
Joel Smith pictured after Melbourne exited the finals, unaware he would soon receive a drugs ban. Credit: JAMES ROSS/AAPIMAGE
“He’ll be back just after Christmas to start training. He won’t miss any football, he’ll be available for Round 1. That’s not really a deterrent if you ask me,” Hawthorn premiership player Campbell Brown said on Sunrise.
“If you get done allegedly testing positive on game-day, it means that you’re doing drugs in the lead-up to that.
“That’s not really respecting your teammates, the game, the supporters or the footy club. I think that’s extremely lenient.”
Smith was tested by Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) officials on August 20 after Melbourne played Hawthorn in Round 23.
He remained in the team for Round 24 and the Demons’ two finals defeats before receiving notification of the positive test last week.
With the weeks-long turnaround an inevitable factor in doping processes, Brown said the off-season timing should not allow Smith to escape without a football punishment.
“There needs to be a stronger deterrent. He’s not going to miss a game of football and the look is just absolutely horrendous,” he said.
“He’s 27 years of age, he’s been in the system eight years, he should know better.”
Hawthorn great Dermott Brereton agreed, saying Smith is “missing footy while there is no footy”.
“That’s not a suspension,” he told SEN.
Joel Smith returned to the Demons’ AFL side in Round 12 and played every game through to the end of the season. Credit: AAP
High-profile former AFL sport doctor Peter Larkins said the WADA program has become “the most complicated drug system that I’ve ever known”.
“The biggest question is why was an AFL player – who’s about to head into a finals campaign where they were a contender for a flag – taking cocaine?” he said.
“But that’s the other layer to this – the penalty is only three months if you can prove you used the product on Wednesday instead of Saturday. It gets confused.
“I believe, and I’ve always believed, stimulants… cocaine comes as a stimulant and therefore it wires people up. That’s why it is banned.
“Cocaine being illegal, and an illicit substance, it’s widespread. It’s no surprise that AFL players are around it.”
Brereton disagreed with the notion from “some younger people” that cocaine use is “not a massive issue”.
“My reaction to that is it can’t help. It can’t help you in any increment whatsoever – it can’t help you even one per cent,” he said.
“But it might detract, it might take off one per cent, this kind of behaviour.
“If you’re trying to write yourself into the history of the sport – reach a grand final and win it – why not give yourself every tiny little one per cent better chance?”
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