'It wasn't a banned substance under definition'
Sports commentator Gerard Whateley is confident Essendon football players will be cleared of any wrong doing surrounding the use of the anti-obesity drug AOD-9604.PT0M0S 620 349
The AFL warned James Hird in late 2011 to not involve his players in a peptides program.
Sources close to the joint investigation by ASADA and the AFL into Essendon have told Fairfax Media that the AFL warning came after senior league officials had learnt that Hird had been investigating the anti-doping status of certain peptides.
Investigators appear to have built a compelling case that Bombers coach James Hird was an enthusiastic supporter of the club's injecting program. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Hird faces a lengthy suspension from the game for his key role in instigating the experimental drug program that sees his players also facing suspension for potentially breaching World Anti-Doping Agency regulations.
As the AFL-ASADA investigation wraps up it has been alleged that the AFL told Hird to stay away from peptides more than a year before Hird claimed he was "shocked" by the position in which the club found itself and took "full responsibility" for the Bombers' football department practices. The AFL had allegedly been told that Hird was investigating peptides in his determination to introduce a high-performance program heavily punctuated with substances that would prove to be a new frontier in the fast-tracked strength and conditioning of his senior team.
AFL chief Andrew Demetriou, when questioned on Tuesday night about the AFL warning Hird, said: "I'm refusing to comment on that. I'm not giving a running commentary on the investigation." Demetriou, who is also an AFL commission member, has said previously that he would not speculate on allegations that could prove prejudicial to the Essendon investigation or its ultimate findings expected to be handed down next month.
Evidence has also emerged suggesting that Hird's senior assistant, Mark Thompson, cautioned the Bombers' coaching group and football staff against the injecting program. Thompson, one of the last witnesses to give evidence in the investigation, is believed to have voiced concerns about the multiple injections and off-site intravenous program carried out by bio-chemist Stephen Dank.
But Hird, a club legend, premiership captain and Australian Football Hall of Famer, has emerged as an enthusiast behind the injecting program while insisting that he put caveats on the treatment of his players.
They included the proviso that all substances must be WADA compliant and that no harm would come to his players. The only public evidence of those caveats has come in the form of an email to the now suspended high-performance boss, Dean Robinson, sent by Hird in January 2012.
While Hird has said he was confident the club would be in a "very good position" once the investigation had been completed, that investigation appears to have built a compelling case that the Bombers' senior coach was an enthusiastic supporter of Dank's program, support strongly backed by his football operations boss, Danny Corcoran.
It is believed that Hird's performance in his interview in May with ASADA and the AFL did not completely convince investigators that the senior coach had acted appropriately in demonstrating due diligence.
And evidence from some key witnesses has not been favourable to Hird, painting a picture of a coach with a fascination of exploring the so-called "new frontier", a program described by club-appointed investigator Ziggy Switkowski as "a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the club".
Hird has denied Dank's allegation that he was injected with the WADA-banned anti-obesity drug Hexarelin but Fairfax Media understands evidence has emerged that the banned substance was last year onsite at the club.
Demetriou said on Monday any suggestion the AFL was attempting to "soften up" the public in the expectation of a lenient penalty to the Bombers was fanciful.
Hird's media adviser Ian Hanke told Fairfax Media: "We have no comment to make on this story, but the facts will be revealed in due course."
On Tuesday, Essendon released a statement, in which it denied Hird had been warned by the AFL.
‘‘This is factually incorrect. Until the ASADA investigation is completed the full context of this particular meeting should not be the subject of innuendo,’’ the club said in a statement.
Essendon also insisted that Hird had not been the main figure behind the supplements program, and said suspended high performance coach Dean Robinson, not Hird, was responsible for Dank coming to the club.
The statement also expressed angered at the leaking of investigation details.
‘‘Representatives from the club have requested all parties to the investigation to guarantee confidentiality and to afford natural justice,’’ the statement said.
‘‘Breaching this confidentiality directly undermines the trust in the process and selective disclosure of information relating to the investigation appears to be deliberately threatening the integrity of this process.
‘‘For the reputation and integrity of senior coach James Hird to be questioned without the right to due process, is extremely disturbing and inappropriate in the circumstances.’’