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Drug shambles could work in players' favour

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Players viewed as victims in leaked report

Fairfax investigative journalist Nick McKenzie speaks with 3AW's Neil Mitchell about leaked information from ASADA's report into doping at Essendon.

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Some see the Essendon story as a conspiracy, in the Watergate vein. The departed chairman of the club, David Evans, recognised the Shakespearean elements when he deemed it "a tragedy".

But where there might have been elements of secrecy and duplicity at Essendon in 2011-12, much what emerges from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority report into the supplements disaster is a disorganised mess in which there was uncertainty about who was given what substance.

Remarkably, it is this sheer lack of oversight - the breakdown in protocols that were meant to be followed by officials - that looks set to save the players from the worst, namely lengthy suspensions for taking World Anti-Doping Agency-banned substances.

That worst could still happen, but it does not appear likely at this stage. ASADA still wishes to interview sports scientist Stephen Dank, the central figure in the scandal, as a result of its new powers (persons of interest who refuse to be interviewed can be fined up to $5100 a day, according to the new legislation, which has just taken effect).

The shambolic nature of the program threw the players into the fire, but it also means they should not get burnt.

The failure to keep proper records - and to adequately verify what, if anything, was actually banned - makes it harder for ASADA to issue infraction notices against individual players.

This obviously does not excuse the club - hence the long-speculated likelihood that the club will face sanctions from the AFL instead of the players being penalised by ASADA.

It is fair to question the extent to which these lack of specifics - eg, the naming of "Thymosin" on a form, rather than a more specific description of "Thymosin beta 4" (banned) or "Thymosin Alpha" (not banned) - was accidental. It is a question that Dank has not had to answer.

From what we hear, the report makes a strong case that banned substances were a) at the club, and b) administered. Hence, the suggestion that the club is off the hook if the players aren't suspended is simply not accurate.

The report paints Dank in a highly unflattering light, with others - including coach James Hird - seen as failing to keep track of a program that did indeed go rogue.

Fairfax Media believes that a reading of the report elicits sympathy for the players, whose evidence is understood to have been pretty candid and did not give the impression they were trying to conceal any practices or protect themselves.

No fewer than 11 players, for instance, stated their belief that they were told they were taking Thymosin, but they did not have any further knowledge of whether it was the banned variety or the innocuous one.

The report suggests there is strong circumstantial evidence that the banned version was administered.

But it cannot say to whom it was given, with any certainty. And for that shambles, the players - and ultimately the club and the AFL - must be thankful.

51 comments so far

  • The fact that Essendon barely won a match in the second half of 2012 only shows that they were only taking performance-debilitating drugs.

    Rita Hayworth
    Date and time
    August 07, 2013, 9:26AM
    • That's a very simplistic view to take.

      The Real World
      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 12:19PM
    • Simple Barney. It's a joke! Try laughing. It's good for you!

      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 12:56PM
  • You need to be careful Jake because the full weight of the wrath of Essendon supporters will fall on you just like it has on Caroline Wilson. The only acceptable scenario for those screaming supporters is one that never questions Hird, the Essendon Football Club or any of the players. Please understand that nothing untoward happened at the EFC - NOTHING - and to say otherwise as you have done in this article makes you an Essendon and Hird hater.

    Mt Eliza
    Date and time
    August 07, 2013, 9:31AM
    • Robbo - we're ok with questioning Hird et al, just as long as it's fact-based. And circumstantial evidence aint facts - actually it's wishful thinking to even associate the word "evidence" with Jake's dubious conclusions, but I'll let that slide. Here are the facts: ASADA have spent six months and come up with nada - not a single infraction notice has been issued! None. Zip. By comparison it took a matter of days to slap one on Saad.

      There are plenty of ubious conclusions being drawn around Collingwood (HGH) and Hawthorn's 2012 needle program but you don't hear Bomber fans screaming for an investigation. Why dignify rumours, innuendo and hearsay? Happily we still have the rule of law. Do you think Jake's conclusions would hold up in court?

      Windy Hill
      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 12:30PM
    • Get over yourself Robbo. Obviously you are a die hard Bombers boy. What are your thoughts on the Saints Ahmeed Saad situation?

      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 1:18PM
    • @ Robbo,

      not all Essendon supporters think Hird is some sort of untouchable deity. Some of us are very angry with him and would like nothing more than to see him stood down as senior coach.

      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 1:49PM
    • Disapprobing of that someone or some entity has done does not make one a "hater", to use that appalling lazy noun.

      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 3:18PM
  • Right up front I will say I am a very strong Essendon Supporter and I am continually saddened and disappointed in what I have read. I whole hearted believe in James Hird. It is very unfortunate that the Essendon Club has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars paying the so called "Support team" such as the medical team, that supposedly is there to do a specific job in order for the Coach and Players to concentrate on "their" job. I am a Compliance Consultant, albeit for the Financial" processes of Global companies, yet the basic compliance and review steps that should have been taken by the Essendon Club staff/support team has failed or non-existent. Basic steps such as accurate/critical informationshould have been documented and a review process similiar to an internal audit, documented in black and white steps should at the very least, have been taken place on a bi-annual basis and reported to the board. Stop all the blaming of the Coach and Players and concentrate on the real source of the failure....Essendon Support/Medical staff. Disciplinary Action should be taken to those who failed to put in place adequate controls, those who failed to follow any existing controls, those who received warnings and refused to act, those who blantantly knew and acted in the wrong doing. For the good of the Club and the Sport, lets apply reasonable decisions/sanctions/fines to those who failed in their duty, learn from what happened, close/tighten any existing and possible failures/risks and ensure that no other club or sport (outside of the AFL) will face what has become a debacle again.

    Date and time
    August 07, 2013, 9:49AM
    • Yeah right, so pass the buck down the line to the loyal servants of the club. Hird, as head coach and as a long-term Bomber player, should know the culture of the club as well as anybody. If he put them in harm's way with his decisions, I'm sorry but HE bears responsibility for that. The staff at the club are expected to do their best for the side and will mostly do what they are told. If they are guilty of some things too so be it, but Hird is not as wonderful as his image makes out. And this is from an Essendon supporter.

      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 11:29AM

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