The number of drug, alcohol and mental health-related incidents involving elite level athletes is becoming alarmingly high, and often a lack of information and awareness from their development years can be to blame.
West Coast Eagles star Willie Rioli is the most recent example of a top level athlete who has fallen off the wagon, after he was stopped at Darwin Airport on Friday, April 23 with just under 25 grams of cannabis hidden in his pants.
The incident comes after he was given a two-year ban by the AFL in 2019 for tampering with a urine sample, and was due to return to training on June 20, before being allowed to play again in August this year.
Lawyer Mark Thomas spoke during Mr Rioli’s court appearance on Wednesday of the humiliation Rioli had experienced after his case became public knowledge.
Experts are concerned this situation has happened on too many occasions, and warn if changes aren’t made, the frequency will multiply.
Perth psychologist Marny Lishman says there is an increasing link between athletes and substance abuse, especially when going through tumultuous times.
With a rise in the number of athletes being caught in such situations, should substance abuse and mental health issues be raised with these athletes from an earlier age and possibly prevented?
Founder of A Stitch in Time and Ex-NBL star Greg Hire says the importance of a good foundational knowledge of mental health and the impacts of drug and alcohol use is crucial for up-and-coming athletes.
“Early intervention and education is integral, but people do not think it is applicable, nor do they think it is important,” he says.
“But I look at it as the fact that sports is an amazing platform that engages with athletes at a very introductory [stage].
Experts believe if elite athletes are provided with fundamental skills which will prepare them for the demands of professional sport, even just a few years earlier, the situation will improve the wellbeing of Australia’s future stars.
Mr Hire, who also recently took on a role at the Western Australian Institute of Sport as an Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement advisor, says being prepared for change is imperative to athlete mental wellbeing, as the dynamic nature of the sporting industry is unpredictable.
West Coast Eagles coach Adam Simpson said Willie Rioli’s fate was due to be decided in the next seven days, when he addressed the media on Thursday, May 13.