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ASADA revelations do not dilute Essendon's culpability

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ASADA 'suggesting players haven't fully cooperated'

Acting AFLPA chief Ian Prendergast says Essendon players' legal teams want ASADA to provide them with all the documents they intend putting to the anti-doping panel.

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The revelation that the AFL feared it could no longer rely upon a deal it believed it had struck with ASADA over the Essendon players will not prove the 'gotcha' moment of this extraordinary saga but does go some way to demonstrating again how disillusioned those players must now feel.

Lawyers representing the 34 footballers facing anti-doping sanctions have requested their response to their show cause letters be delayed until after Essendon's Federal Court challenge to the legality of the AFL-ASADA joint investigation was heard.

To date all 34 players - some retired and some now playing at rival clubs such as Stewart Crameri, Scott Gumbleton and Angus Monfries - remain united in their determination to fight ASADA and avoid even the suggested six-month suspension.

The submission followed the partial publication of an email sent from then deputy AFL boss Gillon McLachlan to ASADA on March 7 last year. The email demonstrated McLachlan's fears the anti-doping agency would renege on an original undertaking struck two weeks earlier between the AFL, Essendon and the players union.

McLachlan's email of concern to ASADA immediately followed an email sent from ASADA to McLachlan. In that the anti-doping agency backed down upon parts of its original agreement with the AFL. ASADA's back-down followed a demand from the NRL that its players receive a similar guarantee owing to the same exceptional circumstances.  

McLachlan refused to comment on Wednesday but if the revelation of his fears, published by News Limited, do not sit comfortably with the now AFL CEO they would even less with ASADA which had always insisted in the face of savage scrutiny from the NRL that it had entered into no watertight agreement with the rival Australian Rules code.

The view of the AFL Players Association at the time was that the original letter - despite the NRL's outrage given that their players received no such guarantee - provided no real legal promises for those Essendon players who were being investigated despite any so-called "exceptional circumstances".

The players were advised at any rate by the AFLPA several months later to co-operate with the ASADA and AFL investigators despite the backdown. 

But the fact that McLachlan called ASADA on it does seem even more significant when you consider the frustration vented against the entire process on Monday by his chairman Mike Fitzpatrick.

The league chiefs would have been taken aback when new ASADA boss Ben McDevitt stated last Friday that there were no circumstances under which players could completely escape suspension despite the fact their legal teams had told them otherwise.

While it remains unfortunate and to most observers quite staggering that the Essendon players who participated in the drugs program allowed the needles, the secrecy and other pharmaceutical experiments to continue for so long it is worth considering the following.

First is that those players did raise some alarms as early as January 2012. A senior group met their trusted doctor Bruce Reid, coach James Hird, football boss Danny Corcoran, high performance manager Dean Robinson and Stephen Dank.

They were assured by one and all that the program was safe and legal and were then given consent forms to sign demonstrating that all the drugs being administered were not banned nor frowned upon by the AFL nor the World Anti-Doping Authority.

Further assurances that everything they were being given was approved by the clubs doctor of more than three decades Reid. Under AFL rules players are told that every drug they take must be approved by their doctor.

Much later, after the whistle was blown, the players were strongly advised to co-operate due to the so-called "exceptional circumstances". They were assured their careers would not be curtailed nor tarnished.

It is true the joint interview process provided some nasty shocks in terms of their potential long-term health. It is also true that some of the more senior players now feel foolish at not questioning the drug experiment more strongly.

But clearly they remain the victims of deception in this world test case of team anti-doping. Neither the AFL nor Essendon should not be immune to ASADA - for all its mistakes along the journey - nor WADA penalties because those are the authorities to which the game has signed up.

But nothing can excuse the self-serving, shameful and dishonest manner in which those footballers were treated.

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