IT IS beyond doubt that Essendon adopted unusual and irresponsible practices in transforming so much of its football program into a body-building laboratory during 2012.
While the Bombers remain determined in their belief they did not feed performance-enhancing drugs to their players, there is genuine fear at Windy Hill that those practices could still prove to be anti-doping rule violations under the ASADA code. Even if the players escape punishment, officials guilty of those violations face two-year bans.
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The key issues from the ACC report
Greg Baum and Scott Spits analyse the key points from the Australian Crime Commission's report into the integrity of Australian sport.
It appears beyond doubt that personnel who worked at Essendon last season are among those referred to in Thursday's occasionally explosive report put forward by the Australian Crime Commission. While the AFL cannot reveal what it was told, the league is aware it has an issue with performance-enhancing drugs.
Essendon is one club being investigated, as are Geelong and the Gold Coast. High-performance manager Dean Robinson worked at all three and Stephen Dank briefly at the Gold Coast as well as Essendon. Suspicions have been placed on individuals across several clubs.
Which raises the question: What has the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Agency been doing for the past four years? AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick emerged from Thursday's hastily convened commission meeting and confessed he had suspected about a year ago the drug-testing regime was not working.
In isolation, this is damning. The AFL famously resisted joining forces with the World Anti-Doping Agency's illicit drugs policy because of the number of indigenous players testing positive for marijuana. Federal government pressure to the tune of $3 million a year in annual funding saw Andrew Demetriou back down in 2005.
Since then, the AFL has complied with WADA testers for illicit drugs and ASADA testers for performance-enhancing drugs. It is by far ASADA's biggest client and pays the agency close to $500,000 a year for the privilege. On all available evidence, it has been a privilege that has gone all one way.
If the highly paid ASADA had suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs infiltrating the AFL as it now believes became a big problem again three or four years ago, it failed to communicate that to the AFL. And yet WADA boss John Fahey has accused Australia's leading sporting bodies of dropping the ball.
We would suggest the anti-doping agencies charged with keeping them clean dropped the ball. Sport was being corrupted on their watch. And that includes illicit drugs. The league's self-reporting loophole might have provided an escape valve for players but that alone surely doesn't explain so few positive tests in 2011.
On Friday, ASADA met officials from Essendon for the first time. It now seems that while the Australian Crime Commission had suspicions regarding certain individuals at Essendon, ASADA only moved to investigate the club after it reported itself to the AFL this week.
In 2008, the AFL established what has become by far the most vigilant integrity unit in Australian sport. Thursday's grandstanding press conference in Canberra revealed that doping in sport has moved far beyond the testing regimes. It spoke of sharing information and an expanded intelligence database and increased communication with all law enforcement agencies. It took its time.
Thursday's revelations are damning and frightening and horrific. The public statements that accompanied it, however, proved largely rhetorical given there have been no arrests and, certainly in Victoria, match fixing has not yet been outlawed.
To square the blame at the sports themselves and indirectly put suspicion on every key competition and its competitors seemed a bit rich given the lack of detail.
So it is Essendon that continues to find itself the face of the scandal while the NRL appears to be braced for a match-fixing scandal and soccer in this country remains in naive denial.
There is no doubt the club has made some terrible mistakes. That chief executive Ian Robson allowed people to take positions of responsibility at the club with such dubious connections has damaged his credibility and could cost him his job.
That the same practices went on under the noses of James Hird and Mark Thompson does not reflect well on them, and Thompson certainly must be stripped of his autonomous position within the footy department if he hasn't been already. And that is if both men survive.
Veteran Essendon doctor Bruce Reid put a stop to some of Dean Robinson's and Stephen Dank's more experimental or foolhardy plans for the players but his authority, too, must be scrutinised for the players have reported that the club doctor was in the room when they signed those crazy consent forms.
The AFL appears ahead of the game where gambling and match fixing is concerned and has taken appropriately drastic measures to fight drug cheating and rid the game of the more cowboyish sport scientists.
And the true message for footy this week is that while it does have a problem it is better placed than the dopey drug agencies to take care of its own backyard.