Bailey Smith’s drug photos spark renewed debate over AFL’s illicit drugs policy

There are few issues able to tie the so-called “AFL industry” in knots as much as its illicit drugs policy.

The Western Bulldogs’ Bailey Smith’s very public outing of drug use has once again thrown the policy into the spotlight and given rise to a renewed debate about its strengths and weaknesses.

Smith’s coach, Luke Beveridge, called for the policy to be scrapped, while Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett wants it strengthened, calling for zero-tolerance and a two-year ban without pay for players caught taking drugs.

Former St Kilda star Nick Riewoldt recently said the policy allows “wriggle room” for players to take drugs – which he called a “massive issue” in the game.

Smith has spoken publicly about his battles with anxiety in the past and since photos of him holding a bag of white powder were published, first on social media and subsequently across news outlets.

He said he was taking drugs to help him cope with his mental health in the aftermath of last year’s grand final loss to Melbourne.

Bailey Smith of Western Bulldogs during the AFL Round 12 match.
Smith was open about his indiscretions and apologised for them.(AAP: James Ross)

“I do get waves of chronic anxiety,” he told the Herald Sun.

“That period after losing the grand final, being away from home for a while, plus my own mental health issues that I’ve spoken publicly about, culminated in some poor decision making.

“It was more the aftermath of just lots of cameras in your face, lots of TikToks being made … just felt like I didn’t get a breather and coming out of such a pressurized environment … and not knowing how to deal with the pressure afterwards .

“I reckon I went days without eating, even brushing my teeth, leaving my bedroom, couldn’t talk to people.

“It’s not an excuse to why I acted the way I did, but it certainly does provide context to why I made such a stupid decision that I did.”

Smith will face the AFL’s integrity unit on Tuesday and it’s possible he’ll be offered a two-match ban for “conduct unbecoming”.

It’s the same penalty given to former Adelaide and now St Kilda player Brad Crouch in 2020 when he was caught in possession of drugs with his former teammate and now Geelong player Tyson Stengle, who was banned for four matches.

Former GWS player Shane Mumford was also given a two-match ban after a video taken of him snorting a substance in 2015 emerged three years later.

But any AFL sanction is quite separate to the process under the AFL’s illicit drug policy, which allows players three “strikes” if they’re found to have taken illegal drugs.

A grainy screenshot of a man with a mullet and mustache holding a small plastic bag.
The images leaked onto social media on Saturday.

A player with a first strike is given a $5,000 fine and counseled, but the information is kept strictly confidential.

The player remains anonymous and only the club’s doctor is told, so that they can help form a plan with the player including potential counseling and treatment.

It’s only when the player has a second strike that the player’s name is publicly released, and they’re given a four-match suspension and another $5,000 fine.

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