Business as usual … Essendon train on Friday. Photo: Pat Scala
Australia's four football codes were briefed on the explosive nature of the Australian Crime Commission's findings of widespread drug use in sport well before a news conference in Canberra made it public, raising questions whether the AFL alerted clubs, such as Essendon, while the NRL did not.
The Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, the peak body of which the AFL and NRL are members, summoned sports to a meeting in Melbourne to brief them before the Canberra news conference.
Essendon's admissions of potential breaches of the ASADA drug code became front-page news between the Melbourne meeting and the Canberra news conference.
Asked how COMPPS first knew of the ACC report, a spokesperson said, ''A request from the ACC to attend a briefing a week before the announcement of the report.''
FFA chief executive David Gallop revealed his code was contacted three days before the bombshell, saying, ''We were asked to come to a COMPPS meeting in Melbourne last Monday to be held on the Tuesday. It was for CEOs only.''
Gallop had a prior commitment but all the sports were represented and briefed before the ACC announcement two days later.
Insofar as COMPPS knew of the ACC report seven days before it was made public and FFA four days before, it raises the question whether the AFL informed Essendon of the Bombers' potential breaches.
Asked whether the AFL tipped off Essendon, AFL deputy chief executive Gillon McLachlan issued a strong denial, saying, ''No, we did not.''
Yet Essendon's outing of themselves, officially informing both the AFL and ASADA of its concerns over widespread drug use, allowed the AFL to go on the front foot and manage the issue, while, the NRL, with a chief executive only days in the job, was also bound by the confidentiality provisions of the ACC.
The NRL did not inform its clubs, fearing it would prejudice the ACC investigation but the Essendon outing allowed the AFL to appear proactive, isolating the NRL.
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said after the Canberra news conference that ''a line in the sand'' had been drawn between Australian sport and drugs, but his code and its acolytes dug a trench between the AFL and the NRL.
A Melbourne newspaper reported on Sunday that the NRL, fearing it had more to lose from the revelations than other codes, badgered them into attending the ACC conference. A COMPPS spokesperson said this was ''absolute rubbish''.
McLachlan was reported at the weekend saying, ''The federal government came out yesterday and said that every code needs an illicit drugs policy and we're the only one who has one.''
I was on the board of the federal government's Australian Sports Commission when we had to badger the AFL into following the lead of the Australian Rugby League and introduce an illicit drugs sports policy.
McLachlan, who was offered the NRL's top job, clearly forgot the due diligence he did on the NRL's code.
Not only has rugby league's policy been in operation longer, it is also tougher - two strikes compared with the AFL's three.
Admittedly, AFL tests for illicit substances are conducted by the central administration, while the NRL delegates it to the 16 clubs who must conduct 100 tests a year.
NRL clubs, such as the Storm, ridicule the AFL's policy, which allows players to self report at the imminence of a test, thus avoiding a strike and being sent for counselling.
McLachlan subsequently admitted he ''made a mistake in one of many radio interviews'', conceding that both the NRL and cricket had drug policies, but like many stories in the media, his mea culpa was not widely reported. The clubs with the mea gulpas of drug use were more important.
Earlier, it was reported that ''make no mistake, the ACC findings on the uses of illegal substances savages the NRL, a code that despite repeated warnings has an integrity system as ruthless as a lollipop lady eating a cheese sandwich''.
Apart from the NRL's tougher penalties on drugs, the code took the matter of Canterbury player Ryan Tandy and the exotic betting sting to the NSW Police, while the AFL was denying that tanking existed.
Only in recent months has the AFL admitted the Melbourne Demons may have deliberately lost matches in order to win high draft choices and has demanded the club show cause why it should not be punished.
As Storm coach Craig Bellamy said of his club being stripped of two premierships for salary cap abuse within hours of admitting cheating, ''At least we were trying to win. They were trying to lose!''