Dean Rioli’s heartfelt letter to the AFL calling on them to help cousin.

Dear Gillon McLachlan and Andrew Dillon,

I am writing to plead for the AFL to play a more active role in my cousin Willie Rioli’s hearing with ASADA this month.

It has been 15 months since Willie received the notice that he is to be suspended and while I agree that ignorance is not an excuse and he had to accept the punishment that was to follow, I am deeply disappointed that he has been left out in the wilderness and uncertain of where his future lies.

In 2015, Collingwood players Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas tested positive for a banned substance after taking illicit drugs in February 2015, and their verdicts were handed down in early August 2015 — six months from test to verdict.

Both players received two-year sentences for testing positive.

In the past eight years, there have been nine cases of football players being sanctioned for prohibited substances. Only a third of these cases received the maximum sanction available, with the average sanction coming to just under 21 months.

The shortest sanction was just six months.

Should Willie receive a similar fate, he will have already served close to the average sentence before his verdict was even handed down.

The cases of Sam Murray, Brayden Crossley, Ryan Crowley, Josh Glenn (SANFL), Khan Haretuku, Ahmed Saad, Sam Gilbert (VFL), Josh Thomas and Lachie Keeffe, and the infamous 34 Essendon players, were all found to have prohibited substances present in their systems.

Willie was not found to have any illegal performance-enhancing drugs in the sample he provided at the time of testing. Missing a finals series in 2019 and to miss an entire 2020 season is a hefty penalty already.

He has been advised for the last eight months that his hearing is coming up in the next month or two and it has now dragged on where it is not fair on Willie but also not right for any individual to have to go through.

Willie is from the remote community of Pirlangimpi on the Tiwi Islands with a population of 350, has a partner also from the Tiwi Islands and two young children aged three years and six months. He is in limbo here on Pirlangimpi until he awaits his fate.

I am currently visiting my community of Pirlangimpi as I write this letter and I know the outcome of the hearing will not only affect Willie and his family but the entire Tiwi Islands and the wider Aboriginal population across Australia.

I am saddened as I sit here today to see the issues and challenges faced in this part of Australia. I know every Aboriginal community across Australia faces their own challenges with education, employment, health, alcohol, drugs, violence, over- crowded housing, incarceration rates and so much more.

Willie Rioli’s outcome will give hope to so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, showing them that regardless of the mistakes you have made, you can continue moving forward on your path and turn your situation into a positive out-
come.

The journey for Willie is an inspiration for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to never give up and that the continuous disappointments of being overlooked in many drafts does not have to be the end of your dream.

His persistence and dedication are qualities many programs across Australia are aiming to instil in our young boys and girls as they grow up to achieve great things in their own lives.

This is a great opportunity for the AFL to use its stance on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs to improve the outcomes of some really bleak situations faced by many across Australia.

I am no way saying that because Willie is Aboriginal, he should receive a different set of rules to everyone else. This is for all people who are caught up in a cycle of negative situations and very rarely get given a second chance to make things right.

I ask that you please step in and place your support behind Willie and show that the AFL fights for people in their system and supports their people who have made mistakes and deserve a second chance.

He acknowledged that ignorance was not an excuse and has accepted the ASADA and AFL ruling to suspend him but he does deserve to be given better priority as it is only fair he knows where his immediate future lies.

I believe an 18-month sentence backdated to August or September 2019 is more than sufficient for someone who did not test positive for any performance enhancing or illegal substance, especially considering the sanctions given to those who did test positive to illegal substances.

Regards,
Dean Rioli