Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says the AFL’s illicit drugs policy is failing and suggested Bailey Smith’s burgeoning public profile means he “essentially almost needs a minder wherever he goes now”.
Smith, the Bulldogs midfielder and social media star, was filmed with a small plastic bag containing an illicit substance during a break he took late last year for mental health reasons. He has since admitted to having indulged in inappropriate behaviour and feels “deeply ashamed”.
Bailey Smith is “deeply ashamed” of his “indulgent” behaviour as he heads into talks with the AFL.Credit:AFL Photos
He will meet the AFL on Tuesday as part of the league’s integrity investigation and faces a suspension in addition to the two-match ban he is serving for headbutting an opponent.
“Those emotions are still pretty raw for him,” Beveridge said on Monday morning.
“It’s essentially a health issue for him. No one condones indulging in illicit substances but it happens in society.
“We are really just interested in the future now with him and how we can carry him through to being better equipped to manage his own health but how he relates to the public as well. He essentially almost needs a minder wherever he goes now.”
Smith has 373,000 followers on Instagram and is one of the AFL’s most marketable players.
The video and images released on social media on Saturday have renewed the focus on the AFL’s Illicit Drugs policy, which has been criticised for a loophole clause that allows a player who receives a “strike” to enter a medical program and avoid further strikes if they have a mental health issue.
Beveridge believes the priority must be mental health and said the existing policy was deeply flawed.
“None of us really feel it works,” Beveridge said.
“Essentially, any player with a clinically diagnosed mental health challenge will never be exposed to the policy anyway because regardless of when you tested ... you’re always going to get a pass. So that’s a real, I suppose, chink in the actual process.
“I’m a big believer that it should disappear.”
Luke Beveridge thinks illicit drug use should be treated as a mental health issue.Credit:Getty Images
While Beveridge acknowledged the seriousness of illicit drug use, its potential to increase the chance of criminal behaviour, and the risk of a substance being laced with performance-enhancing drugs, he said the AFL was one of very few sporting codes in the world with a specific illicit drug policy.
“All you can do is educate and deter your players,” Beveridge said. “There’s a mental health component to it with everyone, regardless of whether you’ve got a clinically diagnosed issue or you’re just generally susceptible to the ebbs and sways along the continuum.
“But ultimately, there’s only so much you can influence and control … You just appeal to their good nature and their conscience. That’s all you can do.”
There have been mixed responses across the AFL, with former Essendon champion Matthew Lloyd suggesting Smith could find a silver lining from the drama and Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett calling for the tightening of the sport’s illicit drugs policy to include a two-year ban without pay.
Beveridge said that although he and the club did not condone the use of illicit drugs, they would continue to support Smith.
“As the father of two young boys that are 23 and 21, I’ve got a fair understanding that no one’s immune to it.
“He’ll learn from it, and we’re really just interested in the future now with him and how we can carry him through to being better equipped to manage his own health.”
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