Dan Silkstone and Caroline Wilson | October 18, 2007
TROUBLED West Coast Eagle Ben Cousins was yesterday sacked by his club after being charged on Tuesday with drug offences believed to relate to a Valium-style sedative for which he did not have a prescription.
Cousins, 29, is due in court today to answer charges of possessing an illegal drug and failing to take a blood test.
A hastily convened meeting of the West Coast board unanimously voted to terminate his contract late yesterday, a decision ratified by AFL boss Andrew Demetriou.
West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett said sacking Cousins was the toughest decision the club had made.
"It's tragic that it's got to this stage," he said. "But it was felt that it had to be made and we're sure we've made the right decision for Ben's health. He is terribly sick. He needs more rehabilitation and we felt that with the spotlight of AFL football off him he can get back to rehabilitation."
Cousins's former teammate Daniel Chick was arrested in a separate incident on Tuesday, but released without charge. A passenger in the car driven by Chick was charged with possessing cocaine and cannabis.
The Federal Government used Cousins's arrest to again slam the AFL's handling of its illicit drugs policy, saying the league had allowed an appalling culture to develop at some clubs.
"Anyone who thinks that the AFL is doing enough in relation to drugs in their sport — in view of the events that have just happened — is kidding themselves," Sports Minister George Brandis said. "It is inconceivable that the AFL can remain way behind the game on the issue of drugs in sport, in view of what has happened with Ben Cousins."
Senator Brandis said it was obvious the AFL had shown leniency as a club culture developed in which recreational drug use was regarded as normal.
In late May, Senator Brandis and fellow minister Christopher Pyne met Mr Demetriou to demand an end to the AFL's "three strikes" policy on illicit drug testing outside competition, under which a player is not identified publicly until after a third positive test.
The Government believes that the AFL policy, which focuses on intervening confidentially to rehabilitate illicit drug users, "sends the wrong message" about drugs and that such an approach — which is supported by many drug and alcohol specialists — has contributed to Cousins's downfall.
The grandmother of Josh Kennedy — the 20-year-old Carlton player who was recently drafted to the Eagles in exchange for star midfielder Chris Judd — yesterday reflected the concern of some families about players being moved into the Eagles culture. "Right from when it was rumoured first that they would trade Joshua, I was very worried," said Kathleen Kennedy. "I was not happy with him going into that environment … Unfortunately, you don't get much say, or we didn't."Mrs Kennedy wrote to Carlton about the trade, saying she would never forgive the club and that "they might think I'm a bitter old lady, but they've hurt one of mine and that's it".
Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd called on sports administrators to "get their act together" on drugs, warning that a Labor government may impose a uniform national policy if they did not comply with demands for hardline consistency.
Mr Rudd dodged questions about the latest investigation into Cousins, but hinted at a tougher stance by his party in future on drugs in sport.
"We believe the right approach is to get all the major codes together with a consistent policy across the board," Mr Rudd said.
"We would look forward to that being the case and being the case soon, and if that's not the case, let me tell you, one needs to be imposed," he said.
Opposition sport spokeswoman Kate Lundy said the Cousins case was a reminder that the AFL had to do more to stamp out illicit drug use.
Senator Lundy said that if Labor won power at next month's federal election, it would convene a working group of drug and alcohol experts, law enforcement officials and sporting administrators to work on a new regime.
But AFL Players Association chief executive Brendon Gale said the latest controversy surrounding Cousins did nothing to dent his faith in the AFL's existing illicit drugs policy.
He said the association would support Cousins as he dealt with "a very serious illness".
"My concern really isn't about his football at this stage," Gale said. "Clearly, he has been challenged the last 12 months; he'll continue to be challenged.
"This is a very serious illness and it's going to take a lot of courage and strength and support to overcome it. But we'll be there to support him, as will West Coast and the football industry."
The Cousins case is one of a series of drug scandals to have hit West Coast in recent years.
In October 2004, West Coast midfielder Daniel Kerr pleaded guilty to forging a Valium prescription and was fined $400.
With MISHA SCHUBERT, MARTIN BLAKE, AAP
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