More than one year has passed since the drug test that led to Willie Rioli being suspended from playing in the AFL for 12 months, but he and his club still don’t know when the matter will be resolved.
Rioli, a West Coast Eagles forward from a famous football family, allegedly poured a drink into a urine sample jar. It has been reported he was suffering dehydration and was frustrated by not being able to pass urine for hours.
A subsequent test found no evidence of performance-enhancing drug use, only indications of cannabis use. The sample tampering and the positive cannabis test results will be dealt with by ASADA concurrently.
Des Headland, Chair of the Indigenous Players Alliance, told NIT Rioli had been left “in limbo” by the process, which could result in a four-year ban from the game.
“It’s about clarity for Willie. If he knew exactly what his term of suspension was, he could work towards that date, put himself in a program, get ready to come back,” Headland said.
“He’s been left in limbo, a young kid from the Tiwi Islands goes straight into the AFL industry, this big bubble [and] all of a sudden, he’s been left out to dry. Where is the clarity?”
Headland said the handling of the case was “unbelievable”.
“There’s a young kid hung out to dry with no scope of return. He needs support. The club has been fantastic, making sure his physical and mental health is on point. Hopefully we will see him out on the field again soon doing what he does best.”
The Alliance President said he understood there were limits to what the League could say about the details of an individual case, but they could speak out about the lack of certainty in the long process.
“The Indigenous Players Alliance can voice our opinions, we can try to push more to see an outcome. It has been 12 months, and Willie doesn’t know if it’s going to be another 12 months—it’s very frustrating for him.”
The 25-year-old has spent most of his provisional suspension in the Tiwi Islands, with his partner giving birth to their second child, a boy, earlier this year.
He has had occasional trips to Perth to visit teammates, and in May shared a video of him training on his own in the Tiwi Islands.
In July it was reported the West Coast Eagles would offer further support to Rioli after he posted a since-deleted social media video declaring he’s “never needed to cheat”, expressing some frustration.
He has not played since West Coast’s win over Essendon in the first week of the 2019 finals.
In an interview with Neil Mitchell earlier this week, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan agreed with Mitchell’s statement that the delay is “really wrong”.
“The timing and the delays are really challenging … I have been in trouble for [saying] it before. I have said this to [ASADA], the timing of the process is a challenge for the individuals involved, we have to work hard on improving it,” he said.
“ASADA perform an excellent and necessary role but I do think we have got to do a better job with this.”
The AFL’s official comment to NIT noted the League is “strictly prohibited from making any comment on ongoing matters”.
By Giovanni Torre