Lacking support: Essendon chariman Paul Little. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
AFL club presidents have expressed serious disenchantment with Essendon and its chairman Paul Little, increasingly enraged that Little’s latest round of legal manoeuvring is holding the game to ransom.
Fairfax Media understands that rival clubs are considering bringing forward a crisis meeting of all 18 clubs in a bid to bring some closure to the drugs saga.
The next scheduled meeting of club presidents is not until the end of September, but several clubs have contacted AFL chiefs in recent days urging the league to stand up to the Bombers’ litigious chairman.
West Coast chairman Alan Cransberg echoed the private and public thoughts of 10 club bosses contacted on Monday when he said: “I just think it’s a bloody pity that we’re going to have at least another 18 months of this circus. At some stage you’ve got to take your right whack.”
While Little on Sunday expressed appreciation at support from the AFL community, that view was not reciprocated from the majority of clubs.
Geelong boss Colin Carter said: “When Paul Little says he has the support of the AFL community, he shouldn’t assume he’s talking about us.
“This is going to have a damaging effect on the reputation of the competition and every time the AFL pays a legal bill every one of us is paying one-eighteenth of that amount.”
In his first public statement on Essendon for some months, AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said he was extremely disappointed that the drugs scandal continued to unfold without resolution.
He also made some pointed remarks about key individuals penalised as a result of the joint AFL-ASADA investigation.
Port Adelaide’s David Koch warned the Australian sporting community and the international sporting community were closely watching the AFL’s handling of the drug allegations levelled against Essendon.
‘‘I want them to see that we are absolutely true to our values and that we are prepared to stand by the values which supposedly define us,’’ Koch said.
“We cannot fight this on technicalities; we’ve got to fight this on facts. Especially when we pride ourselves on being absolutely relentless in ensuring that our sport is clean. It doesn’t matter who individuals are or their reputations in our code – they have to be dealt with correctly.”
While several clubs were reluctant to expand publicly on Essendon’s legal strategy against the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, the mounting disgust against the Bombers was clear, with no club contacted on Monday prepared to defend Little.
The Essendon chairman is understood to have launched the legal challenge against ASADA and its joint investigation into Essendon with the AFL without fully consulting his board. He told 3AW on Friday his club was unlikely to co-operate with a second ASADA inquiry, if that eventuated.
Hawthorn president Andrew Newbold, who reportedly strongly challenged Little when the 17 clubs called Essendon to account last August, and whose coach Alastair Clarkson aired his disappointment at the game being hijacked last year, said on Monday: “I think our view from a Hawthorn point of view and an industry point of view is well known. You don’t need me to say how it’s affecting the game. It’s obvious.”
Cransberg stressed his “great sympathy” towards the Essendon players who faced lengthy bans from the game.
“Normally I would say you’ve got to be responsible for your own actions and maybe they should have, but I think as leaders and governors of clubs we are responsible,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s hard I know to comment from the outside, but I think I know enough and I’ve been to enough meetings to know that this is maybe the time to put this whole issue behind us and let the game heal.”
Koch, recalling widespread criticism he received for declaring James Hird would never coach again, said on Monday: “I stick by that. This is a very, very serious charge and you’d expect all the authorities to go through a process that is very exacting. It’s all about the facts, and if the facts are that a banned substance has been used, then our sport has been tarnished with drug cheating.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, we have sympathy if there was deception and a breakdown in a club’s duty of care, but if there is evidence then we have to face the fact that this is drug cheating. I go back to the Ziggy Switkowski statement, and that was terribly disturbing.”
Adelaide chairman Rob Chapman, whose club takes on the Bombers on Saturday week, said he looked forward to discussing the issue first hand with Little.
“I know what it’s like to be under scrutiny, and we still get that here,’’ he said. ‘‘But this does have to end sooner rather than later. It’s distracting for everybody because it’s taking the focus from what is shaping up as a great season.”
Greater Western Sydney chairman Tony Shepherd said of the Essendon scandal: “I think it is debilitating ... The sooner this is fixed the better for the whole competition. The other 17 clubs have always put the AFL first, supporting the game in what it is trying to do.”
Carter echoed Fitzpatrick’s position in supporting Essendon’s right to take ASADA to the Federal Court. But in a pointed remark, Carter said: “You can’t deny them that right regardless of the ethics involved.”