OPINION: Willie Rioli – victim not villain
A shockwave ran through the football community last week. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that it shook the nation to its core.
Premiership player Willie Rioli, a celebrated Indigenous footballer known for his sublime skills and outstanding character had been stood down for failing a drug test and subsequently suspended until further notice.
The rumour mill was in overdrive and opinion after opinion was touted on all manner of media platforms about possible circumstances and consequences for Rioli and the West Coast Eagles.
We all now know the consequences and outcomes for the West Coast Eagles. They looked flat and dejected in the first quarter against Geelong. They gritted their teeth in the second quarter with a supreme effort to even the ledger, only to fall away in the second half to be dumped unceremoniously from the AFL finals series by a worthy opponent.
Give the West Coast Eagles their due, when the Rioli ban first came to light they were open and transparent, but more importantly they said their number one priority was Willie Rioli’s mental health and they wrapped as much love and support around him as they possibly could, given the circumstances.
The West Coast Eagles are a power house club which is obvious when you look at the quality of the people they have on their Board and Management. This has translated to on-field and off-field success.
Yes, they have had their share of drug related issues, but in this day and age what family in Australia does not have someone that is struggling with addiction? The honest answer is very few.
Perhaps this is the reason that many were quick to judge that Eagles players had fallen into bad habits again and that Willie Rioli was obviously guilty of taking at the least an illicit substance or at worst a performance enhancing drug. Hence him failing the ASADA drug test.
The maximum suspension is four years, a heavy sentence when you consider that Willie Rioli could conceivably miss the prime years of his football career and not be able to provide for his young family as is his wont.
This is especially so when it has now been revealed that after waiting for three hours and not being able to provide a urine sample Rioli, in frustration, exasperation and perhaps fearfulness, allegedly tried to provide a sample that was not urine.
What has been revealed is that shortly after the botched drug test and possibly at the instigation of the West Coast Eagles and the AFL, Rioli undertook a blood test with the end result being that he had no trace of either illicit substances or performance enhancing drugs in his system. In layman’s terms, he was completely and irrefutably clean.
Here’s the kicker (excuse the pun). In spite of the fact that Rioli has now proven he is a clean athlete, he is still subject to a four-year ban.
Maybe justice is blind. It certainly has been for Australian Aboriginal people for the last 200 plus years.
The AFL has its athletes beholden to 2 anti-doping authorities:
1. Australian Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA)
2. World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA).
For all the talk and envy about professional sports people having a privileged life, in virtually no other profession are your employer’s independent drug testers allowed to invade you and your family’s personal privacy by turning up to your place of residence, or anywhere else for that matter, and insist that you provide a urine sample without any notice. Failure to do so results in possibly losing your livelihood and the ability to provide for your family with no recourse available.
The facts are that in a subsequent blood test Willie Rioli was found to be clean, so he has not cheated deliberately or unknowingly. So how have his competitors been at a disadvantage when he has played against them? The answer is they have suffered no disadvantage.
The AFL, the West Coast Eagles and the Federal Government need to collectively address this issue, for the sake of Willie Rioli and all the other athletes who have been found 100 percent not to be cheats, but are suspended anyway on draconian technicalities.
In Australia, if you are pulled over for suspected drink driving and asked to breathe into a breathalyser and cannot satisfactorily complete the test in spite of attempts to do so, you are then required to provide a blood test which comprehensively and accurately provides a result which deems you guilty or not guilty without a shred of doubt.
Surely this could have applied to Rioli through a common sense approach by the relevant authorities.
“Okay, Willie. I can see you’re having issues providing a urine test. Let’s do a blood test and you can relax and spend time with your family. This won’t take a minute. Sorry about the interruption.”
Unfortunately, common sense does not always prevail.
Willie Rioli would be in a world of pain right now. It would be unfair and unjust for his livelihood to be ripped away as a result of a process which is inordinately unfair, unclear and invasive.
Willie Rioli comes from a Traditional background where his people, proud as they are, have felt the full weight and injustice of white man’s law and they are wary and fearful of it.
Has anybody in authority asked what effect this had on Willie when a stranger imposed himself on his personal space and demanded he carry out certain tasks? Was anybody there to advise and support Willie when he was confronted like this? The answer is no. The system has failed Willie Rioli and ultimately it has failed all of us who love watching Willie Rioli do what he does so well. Make his people proud!
By Clinton Wolf