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It’s being dubbed the ‘biggest controversy’ to hit the AFL league since the Essendon drug scandal. 

Today’s headlines of allegations that clubs are doing ‘off the book’ drug tests to help avoid players being sanctioned could be one of the biggest reputational risks the code has faced in recent times. 

As a sport-obsessed nation, controversial stories involving players and things like drug use, violence, performance enhancing scandals, abuse and the like have become popular news fodder.  

But a headline that implies a culture of ‘cover ups’ across the AFL generally is a major branding problem. 

The leak came from a former Melbourne club doctor with the backing of other whistleblowers who pushed for Andrew Wilkie to take it straight to the Prime Minister. 

Insiders are very commonly the catalyst of a reputation management problem. These insiders are often aggrieved in some way, have a score to settle or quite simply want to make things better, despite the waves they cause. 

The allegations have left a question mark over the AFL and the local clubs: Are they using the guise of medical privilege to cover up a culture like the NRL who find themselves in scandals every other day? 

As we have seen today, this story will continue to spread like wildfire now that the media has caught on and sports journalists are digging down.  

It’s a very common myth that if the media don’t know you’re doing the wrong thing, it’s not a reputation management problem.  

That’s wrong. If you’re doing the wrong thing, it’s only a matter of time before it gets out. 

As painful as it can be, the only genuine protection of a brands reputation is to transparently and consistently do the right thing.  

 The AFL need to get to the bottom of who in the organisation is responsible and provide consequences and support where necessary.  

But with big money and big reputations, these clubs will be looking for the quick wins and loopholes to make this go away. 

Australia’s drug culture isn’t an AFL problem, it is a national reality made worse when our nations role models are using illegal substances and seemingly getting off scot-free.  

Tony Nicholls

Tony Nicholls

Founder and Director of Good Talent Media

Tony Nicholls is an accomplished journalist who has held roles for more than ten years with the ABC, SBS and Network Ten, covering thousands of news stories across Victoria, Australia and in the international media.


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