Skipper Gawn adamant Demons do not have drugs culture

Roger Vaughan and Anna Harrington |

Max Gawn has strongly defended the culture at Melbourne.
Max Gawn has strongly defended the culture at Melbourne.

Max Gawn is adamant Melbourne does not have a drugs culture as the AFL club reels from the new anti-doping charges laid against teammate Joel Smith.

In a dramatic escalation, the league confirmed on Tuesday night that Sports Integrity Australia (SIA) had charged Smith with three anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) of the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code over alleged “trafficking or attempted trafficking” of cocaine to third parties.

Gawn acknowledged the new charges were shocking, but the Demons captain staunchly defended his club.

It’s the latest blow in a tumultuous off-season for Melbourne, who have had several off-field issues.

Smith has been provisionally suspended since October, when he was notified of a positive cocaine test following the Demons’ round-20 win over Hawthorn on August 20.

Joel Smith
Further charges have been laid against Joel Smith. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Asked on Wednesday if there was a club issue, Gawn said: “Not in my opinion, no.

“It obviously is quite shocking. (But) All I can say is for 16 years I’ve been getting drug tested, for 10 years I’ve been getting hair tested.

“In that 10 years, I’ve never been told our club has a drug culture.

“Until I get told we have an issue or until I can see the issue myself, with my own eyes, I can only go off face value.”

Gawn and AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon noted the SIA investigation into the charges was ongoing and nothing had yet been proved.

Dillon also backed the club and added the AFL’s illicit drugs policy was under review.

“As Max said, there have been issues over the off-season, but I think they have great leadership,” Dillon said.

“They do have things to work on, but they are a very experienced club led by an experienced CEO and a great captain.”

After Melbourne crashed out of the finals in straight sets for the second-straight season, issues escalated around their star onfielder Clayton Oliver and Smith’s positive test also became public.

Amid other media reports about off-field problems at the club, chief executive Gary Pert claimed the club’s culture was “the best I’ve seen in 40 years”. 

“I’d like to think I have a good grasp on our group and we’ve had an unbelievable summer, with the turmoil we’ve had over September and October,” Gawn said.

“I’m incredibly bullish we have the right culture.

“I’m not hiding – there are issues – and we will make sure we get that right. But there are going to be issues every single year, whether you guys (media) write about it or not.”

Gawn spoke impressively at an AFL function on Wednesday morning, while noting he was limited given the ongoing investigation.

The Demons captain also said Tuesday night was the first he had heard of the allegation Smith texted teammates in regards to cocaine.

Under the code, trafficking is defined as “selling, giving, transporting, sending, delivering or distributing a prohibited substance by an athlete … to any third party.”

Smith has also been notified of another ADRV for possession of cocaine on September 9, 2022.

He was already facing a maximum four-year ban under the AFL’s anti-doping code for his positive cocaine test.

It is unclear how much the additional charges could add to any suspension, or when that would be determined.

Smith will remain provisionally suspended and is unable to train or play with his teammates, and the AFL confirmed under the code the new asserted violations will be further investigated by SIA.

The 27-year-old’s matter could be heard at the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal, but there is no timeline on when that might happen.