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Essendon players' future uncertain

Essendon's off-field team prepares for its clash with ASADA, with the club pressed for a decision by the end of the week about whether players will join the case.

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Chief AFL medical officer Peter Harcourt has revealed suspicions of Essendon's illegal use of peptides and supplements were so strong that players were tested by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority in 2012, and fears some players could eventually suffer from ''hormonal issues or cancers''.

Harcourt disclosed this during a speech at a FIFA anti-doping sports conference in Zurich in November where, according to lawyers for suspended Essendon coach James Hird on Wednesday, he reinforced their belief that ASADA had acted unlawfully in its joint probe with the AFL last year.

Chief AFL medical officer Dr Peter Harcourt.

Chief AFL medical officer Dr Peter Harcourt. Photo: Pat Scala

But in the same speech, Harcourt, in detailing what he believes occurred during the injecting program at Essendon in 2011-12, said: ''Coincidentally, we did have some wind of this during the course of the year, it was 2012, and so we did arrange through ASADA to have a number of specimens of these players sent to the Cologne laboratory, rather than the Sydney laboratory, but nothing came out of it. These things were masqueraded as supplements but there was no nutritional content.''

The Cologne laboratory in Germany had the capability to test for peptide hormones.

Rival clubs had suspicions of Essendon's supplements program in 2012, with Carlton secretly recording an interview with chemist Nima Alavi, whom it believed had supplied the supplements to Essendon.

Alavi has said he supplied then-Essendon sports scientist Stephen Dank with vials, but does not know whether the players were injected with the banned substance Thymosin beta 4, or the less powerful non-synthetic version of the drug Thymomodulin.

Having been mauled by Essendon days earlier, the Blues were suspicious of the rapid physical development of some Bombers players.

Hird, then-football department boss Danny Corcoran and then-Essendon football manager Paul Hamilton had attended a meeting at Etihad Stadium with AFL integrity boss Brett Clothier and an ASADA representative on August 5, 2011.

The meeting came about after Hird had asked an ASADA drug tester a general question about peptides during an Essendon training session.

Essendon did not self-report to ASADA until February 5, 2013, the night after then-president David Evans held an emergency meeting with, among others, Hird and Corcoran.

At a directions hearing on Wednesday, Hird's lawyer, Nick Harrington, in rejecting claims by ASADA lawyer Dan Starr that Hird had alluded to a ''conspiracy'' against him in his statement of claim, he again made mention of a paper co-authored by Clothier in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and pointed to Harcourt's speech as evidence of a joint investigation.

In revealing that, to that stage, the investigation had cost more than $5 million, Harcourt said: ''The AFL and ASADA -  the national anti-doping organisation - got together to investigate some of these issues which were apparent.

''You might ask why did the AFL team up with a NADO? The real reason was that under individual contracts, all players are contracted to the league as opposed to the clubs.

''A number of sports are like this. It’s quite effective because it gave enormous power to ASADA to look at mobile phones, digital records, files and coerce interviews, because it is allowed under the contract of the players to the league. You can see the extent of this in 130 interviews.

''There was some access to law enforcement reports but that could have been improved for us. It was an enormous amount of effort which cost the AFL roughly $1.3 million in the space of four or five months and involved 14 full-time staff.''

While mentioning the Clothier and Harcourt accounts, Harrington, in reference to his submission of an illegal investigation, then said: "That's the case. It's plain and it's there.''

In the Zurich speech, Harcourt also said the findings of the investigation were ''a 'bit disturbing'' and ''it was shocking to the extent at which experimental drugs were given to young athletes, and highlighted the craziness, or the madness, of certain individuals who were in the support staff who didn't come to grips to what they were doing''.

He said ''substances like a Mexican drug for the treatment of muscular dystrophy was given to the players without knowing exactly what it was'', while he claimed human growth hormone-releasing substances had also been used, among other drugs.

Hardcourt said there was probable use of performance-enhancing drugs.

"But without documentation and knowing precisely what was done, we can't be 100 per cent certain. But there was clear risk of use,'' he said.

 "One thing we have to deal with, and this is the sobering element, my job now is to work out a program to monitor the players for the next five to 10 years, because they were given such exotic substances, many of them growth factors, which means that we are looking at potential hormonal issues or cancers.

"So now we have to go through a process of looking after these 35-odd players just to make sure nothing really nasty happened to them from this crazy activity that individuals allowed to occur at the club.''

Hird and Essendon claim the  investigation between the AFL and  ASADA was unlawful, a contention ASADA has dismissed.