Gippsland footy not immune to ice

RELATED COVERAGE: Ice connection ‘nothing new’

ICE has infiltrated country sporting clubs, and Gippsland is not immune.

Senior police and football administrators recently confirmed what many in sporting circles already knew, or at least suspected, in a Herald Sun article this week – that ice is being widely used in bush footy.

The issue has been on the agenda for some time; last September a government inquiry into the use of methamphetamines recognised the use of ice in sport and $45 million was allocated to help tackle the problem.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester recently raised his concerns in Parliament that ice use was becoming more common in country football and that sporting clubs were in the best position to provide leadership on the issue.

“Football clubs do a great amount of positive work in our communities and I’m concerned a minority of people are ruining the reputation of grassroots clubs,” Chester said.

“Many people I meet in Gippsland are concerned about the impact of ice. Finding a solution will involve all of us in our local communities – from the teachers in our schools and the sporting coaches – right through to the Federal Parliament itself.”

AFL Gippsland region manager Travis Switzer acknowledged drug use was an issue in the community, but did not believe it was necessarily rife in Gippsland football clubs.

“We’d be naive to think there’s not some issues around drug use in the community but also in footy clubs,” Switzer said.

“We understand it’s a community issue and we need to be part of the response and try to help clubs through any issues they may be having, but also trying to get upstream and get to kids (to educate) around the massive negative impact drugs can have on your life.”

Revelations ice was being used as a performance-enhancing drug – in some cases supplied by coaches and used by teens as young as 14 – came as a surprise to many.

Switzer said not one club had broached performance-enhancing use of ice as a problem with AFL Gippsland.

“In terms of the performance-enhancing side of it that’s news to me… I don’t believe it’s an epidemic issue in terms of people using ice for performance enhancing reasons,” he said.

Community figureheads, including police, have called for drug testing to be introduced for country football.

Switzer said drug testing would be impractical to employ in regional football, and AFL Gippsland’s response would focus more on education.

“We’ve got some anecdotal evidence from a couple of people and I’m not sure we can act on that sort of information,” he said.

“Practically I think it’s going to be fairly hard to administer drug testing for country footy.

“Our focus is on trying to get upstream and educate clubs and players on the dangers of drug use and try to work it from that point of view.”

Switzer said AFL Gippsland would continue to liaise with clubs on the issue, run workshops around drug education and work with local experts to provide assistance where required.

“We’ve had some clubs, and obviously Chris (Daffey) in Lindenow is one of them, say that they’ve got some concerns, but to be honest there hasn’t been a strong push from clubs that this is a significant issue for the region, but that’s not to say that it isn’t,” he said.

“If they are dealing with these types of issues they know they’ve got the support of AFL Gippsland if they need it.”