Former Essendon coach James Hird. Photo: Penny Stephens
The AFL has confirmed there is nothing written in the "Terms of the Deed" for James Hird's 12-month suspension that specifically states the coach-in-exile cannot be paid by Essendon during the period of his ban.
However, the league insists it clearly outlined the terms in conversations with Bombers officials after the public release of the penalties, and one of the conditions – given verbally – was that Hird could not be paid by the club.
Hird became the first coach ever to be slapped with a 12-month suspension after agreeing he did not take sufficient steps to avoid the risk of his players been administered banned drugs during the club's controversial supplements program in 2012.
Despite league boss Andrew Demetriou categorically stating Hird could not, and was not, being paid by the AFL or Essendon, claims have emerged suggesting the Hall of Fame Bomber is still receiving – through the club – the equivalent of the salary he would have earned as senior coach.
It's believed that Essendon is locked in talks with AFL officials late on Thursday in a bid to resolve the payment conundrum. One of the sticking points is reportedly the coach's binding employment contract with the Bombers.
In response to questions about whether Essendon was still paying their banished champion, the club said it would not comment on issues covered by "confidentiality agreements".
When asked on Thursday by a reporter whether he was still being paid by Essendon, Hird replied: "sorry guys".
An advisor for Hird's legal team has publicly expressed surprise at Demetriou's stance, claiming nowhere in the official deeds of settlement agreed to by both Essendon and Hird is it written that the club cannot continue to support Hird financially.
An AFL spokesman confirmed that was true, but added: "subsequent to the sanctions being handed down, specific terms of James Hird's 12-month suspension were outlined in conversations with his employer, the Essendon Football Club".
It has not yet been determined whether those conversations are legally binding.
Last month, Essendon reported an underlying trading loss of $3.2 million for the financial year, inclusive of legal costs and fines associated with the supplements scandal.
Demetriou said the Bombers would face more "severe sanctions" if it was found the club was paying Hird, however the AFL spokesman declined to speculate on what the sanctions would be.
As well as his senior coaching salary, there are reports alleging that part of the $120,000 international business course Hird enrolled in was also being paid through the club.
The relevant parts of the "Terms of the Deed" agreed to by Hird when the penalties against the coach and Essendon were made public are as follows:
■ The AFL will impose a 12-month suspension on James Hird from the AFL effective from August 25, 2013.
■ James Hird will not work with any AFL club in any capacity during this period; and James Hird accepts this suspension.
■ The AFL and James Hird consider that the best interests of the game and its supporters are served by a resolution of this matter now, given James Hird's willingness to resolve the matter.
It's understood the AFL believe the second point, that states he cannot work for any club in any capacity during his suspension, carried the obvious inference that he should therefore not receive payment from any club.
The specific no-payment term was then made clear to Essendon in discussions following the public announcement in late August. And Demetriou was adamant on the issue on 3AW on Wednesday.
"If there is one thing I will go to my grave on, I know 100 per cent the AFL is not paying [Hird] and I know that Essendon is not paying," he said.
Just minutes after the AFL handed down its penalties to Hird and the club, the Bombers announced they would extend Hird's contract as coach when he returned from his 12-month ban.
An Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation into Essendon's supplements program is ongoing. Demetriou confirmed on Wednesday that it could still result in players receiving infraction notices, despite reports the parties involved had made a "deal" to keep the players out of trouble.