Ben Cousins will be subjected to the most stringent drug-testing regime ever bestowed upon an Australian sportsman when he is expected to resume his AFL career in 2009.
The AFL Commission on Tuesday granted the troubled former West Coast captain his wish to return to the sport that made him a superstar, provided he adheres to a strict testing program designed to reduce the risk of a relapse.
The self-confessed drug addict must agree to urine testing up to three times a week, plus hair testing up to four times a year.
Any failure to stick to the conditions would result in Cousins, who was banned for 12 months in November last year for bringing the game into disrepute, being suspended indefinitely pending an investigation.
Speaking at the announcement in Sydney, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said the 30-year-old had done everything asked of him to prove he is overcoming his battle with drugs.
“This is a situation where a player has an illness, he’s a self-confessed addict, it’s a long haul, it’s difficult, (allowing him to play again) is not without risk,” Demetriou said.
“But he has subjected himself to some stringent testing, he’s presented himself to all the medical practitioners, they’ve indicated that he’s made real progress.
“He wants to play football again and he’s been given the green light to play football, subject to the conditions.”
St Kilda have already declared their interest in Cousins and have made contact with the Brownlow Medallist, although they have yet to make a firm commitment to recruiting him.
The Saints released a brief statement saying they were pleased by the decision and “will continue to follow its process of due diligence on the matter”.
Brisbane have also expressed an interest but are yet to meet with Cousins.
Demetriou believed the AFL Players’ Association (AFLPA) would be pleased Cousins had the opportunity to play again.
But the AFLPA said they had “serious concerns” the resolution was inconsistent with the current AFL Illicit Drugs Policy “in a number of ways”.
The AFLPA believed the current policy was sufficient without the need for additional conditions and will seek further details and liaise with Cousins prior to forming a response.
Demetriou conceded it was unprecedented for the league to set down rules for just one player.
“If you go back 12 months, it was an exceptional decision (to suspend him) for an exceptional set of circumstances,” he said.
“We’re not comfortable making a decision about one player, … but we do what we always do – we deal with the issues as they come before us.
“Today we have discussed, debated and relied on the best medical advice and we’ve made a decision we think is the right decision.”
Cousins was sacked by West Coast late last year after being arrested by WA police in Perth and charged with possessing a prohibited drug and failing to comply with a requirement to undergo a driver assessment.
Both charges were withdrawn, but the Eagles maintained they were right to sack him, with those incidents the last of a series of misdemeanours involving Cousins.
The Eagles said on Tuesday they were pleased with the AFL’s decision.
“This is an important decision for Ben and we will continue to support Ben’s return to the AFL,” West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett said.
“Ben will always be a great champion of our club and the West Coast Eagles wish him well with his future endeavours.”