WEST Coast premiership forward Willie Rioli has received a backdated two-year ban for tampering with a urine sample and will be able to play in 2021, ending 18 months of uncertainty for the talented Eagle.
Rioli will be able to return to training from June 20, 2021 and is then eligible for selection from August 20, 2021 after his ban was reduced from a maximum four years because of the ‘prompt admission defence’.
The 25-year-old has been banned since the 2019 finals series after tampering with his urine sample during an anti-doping drug test in August of that year.
“I am very relieved that this long process has now ended,” Rioli said in a statement on the Eagles’ website.
“The stress of waiting for the outcome over a long period of time has been difficult for me and my family.
“I realise I have done wrong things and I have learned from it. I am sorry for letting people down. I am looking forward to putting all this behind me and playing footy again soon.
“I would also like to thank David Grace QC, West Coast Eagles Football Club, my management and the AFLPA for their support throughout this process.”
Rioli’s AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal hearing was held in December last year following three separate breaches of the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code.
He has not played since the Eagles’ elimination final win against Essendon in 2019, with the star goalkicker pulled out of West Coast’s squad to face Geelong the following week after being provisionally suspended.
The popular Eagle has been the subject of two investigations by Sport Integrity Australia since August 2019, having also tested positive to cannabis after the elimination final win against the Bombers.
West Coast has remained in contact with Rioli throughout his ban, with club officials regularly checking on his wellbeing and players remaining in contact with the talented forward.
Senior officials, including coach Adam Simpson, have expressed frustration at a process that saw him wait 15 months to have his case heard, and a further three months for a result.
“We are pleased for Willie that this ordeal is now over and he has some clarity around his future,” West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett said.
“We look forward to him returning to the club and resuming what is an integral part of his life.
“It has certainly been very challenging for all concerned and what this case has highlighted is the need to continually educate and that the programs in place do not necessarily suit all players.”
Rioli was represented by David Grace, QC, with the Eagle appearing via video link for his hearing in December, with all proceedings before the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal confidential.
Sport Integrity Australia distanced itself in February from the lengthy wait for Rioli’s verdict, saying it had no powers to announce the verdict from the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal.
Only Rioli or his representatives were able to talk about the specifics of his case in public prior to its conclusion.
“Under strict confidentiality provisions imposed by the WADA Code and the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code, the AFL and other parties were unable to make any public comment in relation to this matter until today,” the AFL said in a statement.
The Tribunal acknowledged there were “substantial delays in the hearing process” that were not attributed to Rioli.
It was therefore concluded that the period of ineligibility should run from the date of Rioli’s initial sample collection on August 20.