MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The embattled Australian Football League have defended their policy for illicit drug use after local media reported that 11 players from one of the indigenous code's top clubs allegedly tested positive during the off-season.
The Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne, the stronghold of the AFL, reported late on Thursday that 11 players from the Collingwood club had failed tests for illicit, but not performance-enhancing, drugs.
Under a new policy, agreed with the AFL Players Association last year, first-time offenders receive a suspended fine and are made to attend mandatory counselling sessions.
The players' identities remain confidential until a second offence, which increases the financial penalty, imposes a four-match ban and is publicly announced. A third-offence results in a 12-month ban and A$10,000 (5,312 pounds) fine.
"The AFL remains committed to an Illicit Drugs Policy (IDP)that seeks to change behaviour, and penalise players whose behaviour doesn't change," the AFL's Football Operations General Manager Mark Evans said in a statement on Friday.
"The AFL has informed the clubs regarding the hair testing over the holidays, but we will not make these public.
"This is the first year of the policy's operation, and I ask that the new policy be given a chance to be in operation and measured for its impact before we demand new changes."
The AFLPA also added their support for the programme, asking for it to be given time to bed in before being judged.
"One of the fundamental pillars of the IDP is confidentiality and whilst we appreciate there is public interest around this issue, we strongly believe releasing results of any testing serves absolutely no purpose in achieving the objectives of the policy," the union said in a statement.
Collingwood President Eddie McGuire said the club would approach the AFL about the report, though he felt the new policy needed "teeth".
"If we don't want it in the game then we have to have penalties," he told the Fox Footy programme on Thursday.
"If you're prepared to put up with it ... then why worry about the illicit tests at all and just focus on the performance enhancing tests."
The report broke shortly before the AFL's season opener between Richmond and Carlton at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, placing increased focus on the embattled code's fight on drug use in the sport.
The AFL is already trying to shake off a scandal over the use of banned supplements by Melbourne-based club Essendon, who have 12 players suspended for the season.
The 12 were among 34 players who participated in a systematic and highly dubious regime in 2012 of supplement injections at the club, which saw them booted out of the following year's playoffs and slapped with a record fine.
Another five of the 34 who moved on to other franchises in the 18-team league have also been forced to sit out the season.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Patrick Johnston)