West Coast Eagles forward Willie Rioli has received a two-year backdated ban allowing him to return to play AFL from August 20

Copping a provisional suspension for doping offences committed in 2019, the anti-doping tribunal determined the suspension would begin from the date of Rioli’s first sample on August 20, 2019,meaning Rioli will be able to train with West Coast from June and play in their last home and away game of 2021.  

The 25-year-old was found guilty of three breaches of the AFL’s anti-doping code, having substituted his urine twice as well as testing positive for cannabis.  

“I am very relieved that this long process has now ended,” Rioli said in a statement via the West Coast Eagles website.   

“The stress of waiting for the outcome over a long period of time has been difficult for me and my family.

“I realise I have done wrong things and I have learned from it. I am sorry for letting people down. I am looking forward to putting this all behind me and playing footy again soon.”  

West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett said Rioli’s offences showed players need more education.  

“Perhaps we need to continue to review the AFL education system because the education is not the same for everyone,” he said at a press conference after the penalty was announced.

“It may not suit people’s needs for learning. That’s a difficult thing for all our players.

“All of our players are from vastly different groups in the community and we need to make sure they all understand how important it is to follow all procedures.”   

Nisbett added that the AFL’s education system had failed Rioli to an extent.   

“[West Coast] push this probably more than most because of our history and it’s an important thing for us to ensure our players are well educated,” he said.

Nisbett described the suspension as a fair compromise but spoke of a shared frustration over the length of time it took for the anti-doping tribunal to come to a decision.   

“We would have liked less so that Willie can get back to training earlier and so forth, but in saying that I think the tribunal was fair in their assessment,” he said.

“It just took too long from the time all the documentation was submitted, from the time tribunal was held to the time the final verdict is given.

“It’s 18 months and I think that’s unfair on any individual regardless of what they’ve done, and in Willie’s case he admitted guilt, he admitted what he had done and is extremely remorseful for that.”   

Dean Rioli, former Essendon star and cousin to Willie Rioli, said he was relieved Willie finally knows his fate.

“To be left in the wilderness for as long as he was is concerning, that a player in our game can be left to hang out so long,” he said.

“The life expectancy of the average player is less than four years so for this to take so long is not fair on any sportsperson.

“We are extremely happy that Willie now has a date to work towards. All I wish for now is for him to get back into the Eagles team during the 2021 finals campaign and win a flag.” 

By Darby Ingram