After a long 540 days on the sidelines, Willie Rioli learned his fate for his doping offence this morning.
In a statement released by the AFL on Thursday, it outlined two separate incidents, but three different offences that occurred in 2019.
On the August 20, Rioli used a prohibited method, namely urine substitution to tamper with a test, while on September 5, he tested positive for cannabis and tampered with the test a second time.
He was provisionally suspended on the September 12, 2019 and has spent time on the sidelines in the Tiwi Islands since.
Avoiding a maximum penalty of four years, his penalty was moved down to two, backdated to the date of his first urine collection date.
He will be available to train with the club on June 20, and play again on August 20, in time for finals.
West Coast Eagles chief executive Trevor Nisbett addressed media on Thursday afternoon, providing a statement on the verdict.
“It just took too long,” Nisbett said.
“It’s 18 months and I think that’s unfair on any individual regardless of what they’ve done.
“He [Rioli] admitted what he’d done and he’s extremely remorseful for that.”
While being unable to comment on the defence used by QC David Grace in Rioli’s hearing, Nisbett gave his thoughts on the maximum penalty Rioli avoided.
“It was a fair hearing. The circumstances are different in each case. Olympic sports are different to weekly league sports. I think that needs to be addressed. I think in the AFL we can address that,” Nisbett said.
“The rules should be different for people certainly in our game, and I think we have the authority in the AFL to investigate that and make some changes if necessary.”
In addition to examining the penalties given, Nisbett questioned the education provided by the AFL, implying there is room for improvement and clarification.
However, he did not shy away from the club’s responsibility either.
“I think the AFL’s education system has probably failed Willie to some extent, so did ours,” he said.
“We push this probably more than most because of history, and it’s an important thing for us to ensure our players are well-educated.
“All of the player realised the situation that he put himself in, and I’m sure they don’t want to go there themselves.
“We think we need to review the education. The education is the same for everyone, but that might not suit everyone. We have players from vastly different backgrounds and can ensure that different education needs are met.
“Willie certainly has learnt everything; we’ll be drilling down very tightly on what we’re expecting of our players.
“We need to make sure we continue to do this. It’s not to say people won’t make mistakes along the way, but hopefully they won’t from this point on.”
Despite the tough time, Rioli is itching to get back into action.
“He hasn’t been in a good place since it started, but on other days, he has been very good,” Nisbett said.
“He’s always said to us ‘football’s my life, I’ve got two young children I need to feed and look after’.
“Now that the appeals have not gone through, we can get him back to training in June and hopefully getting him back playing footy, doing things he loves and get his life back on track.”
Nisbett said the Eagles players are ecstatic to see Rioli return.
“They’re fairly delighted for one of their teammates,” he said.
“When I announced it to the guys, they were really pleased for Willie. Again, I think it’s not so much he’s back playing footy. I think it’s about his welfare.”
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