Essendon will not allow its players to suffer financial penalties in the event that they are suspended by the AFL tribunal as a result of the supplements investigation.
While players can be docked money when suspended by the AFL tribunal, the Essendon hierarchy takes the view that the players themselves are blameless – and should not be suspended – but in the event that this happened the club plans to pay the players their full contracts, including match payments lost.
Skipper Jobe Watson, the club's highest paid player, would be paid all of his estimated $800,000 per season over the next four years, even if he was to be suspended for taking anti-obesity drug AOD9604, which has been deemed by banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because it is not approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Watson, who signed that four-year contract a matter of weeks ago, this week acknowledged taking the drug.
The same would apply to all other Essendon players – they would be paid in full through any suspensions, which Essendon still believes they should avoid. The club's contention has long been that the players followed instructions – an argument strongly pushed by the AFL Players' Association that the AFL also has largely supported, despite the WADA code, which mandates bans of six months to two years for using prohibited substances.
As with all clubs, Essendon's better paid players, such as Watson, are on guaranteed money – they are paid a set amount and do not have a match payments component in their contracts.
The AFL's standard contract has a clause that permits clubs to dock players money if they are suspended, and that amount can be increased in proportion to the length of the suspension. But the club does not have to enforce this provision in the rules. Clubs can dock a player a week's pay – 1/52nd of their base salary; players on match payments, of course, typically lose that payment for every match missed.
Leading player management figure Craig Kelly recently argued that the club should pay any fine, or financial penalty, that a player suffered as a result of the joint Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority-AFL investigation into Essendon's use of supplements in 2012.
"If a player is penalised or fined for something he has unknowingly or inadvertently done then we would be arguing that the club should be paying that fine," Kelly told Fairfax Media.
Kelly's logic – that the players should be protected – has been accepted by the club. His ESP manages Watson and several other Essendon players, including the highly sought out-of-contract ruckman Tom Bellchambers, Brent Stanton and Brendon Goddard. As a recruit this year, the situation cannot apply to Goddard. Kelly said ESP would be seeing "certain things" in negotiating contracts for some Essendon players.
Watson's revelation that he took AOD9604, made during an interview on Fox Footy's On the Couch, has brought renewed focus on the Bombers, sparking a discussion about whether Watson should lose his 2012 Brownlow Medal and of the appropriate response from the AFL and ASADA, which are yet to complete the investigation.