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Early action could have stemmed damage to game, club: AFL

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The AFL has accepted it must take some responsibility in the Essendon supplements affair, admitting that earlier intervention might have mitigated the damage for the club and competition. 

In the fallout from the scandal, failings in the code more broadly - rather than at Essendon solely - have been highlighted by industry and employment law experts.

On Wednesday, AFL deputy chief executive Gillon McLachlan revealed  a meeting in August 2011 between Essendon and AFL officials where the dangers of peptides were discussed.

''I  don't think that we can shirk it in every instance,'' McLachlan said about the accountability of the AFL in the matter. I'm happy to take that on the chin in the sense that if we had gone out there [to Essendon] every month and monitored it then maybe we wouldn't be in [this] situation.

''I think in the end what's happened here is incredibly regrettable for the players and for the competition. We have resolution, and if people need to take various forms of accountability, I'll take that.''

Veteran player agent Peter Jess, manager of Essendon captain Jobe Watson until this year, told Fairfax Media on Tuesday that the AFL was as culpable as the Bombers for the drug controversy that has marred the season. Former politician and VFA footballer Phil Cleary is another who believes the crisis could have been averted if the AFL had enforced stricter occupational health and safety standards. 


And any alleged failure to provide a ''safe workplace'' for footballers at Essendon could allow players to terminate their contracts with the club, according to some employment law specialists, including Josh Bornstein, deputy chairman of Racing Victoria's appeals board. 

The AFL Players Association and the Australian Council of Trade Unions were reported to be in discussions on this matter at the weekend. 

Jess told Fairfax Media that the August 2011 meeting of AFL and Essendon officials, where both parties have acknowledged peptide use was discussed, was evidence the league should have monitored any Essendon sport-science program closely. 

''First and foremost, the AFL had intelligence that warned them that things were happening,'' Jess said.  ''How did they follow up that meeting? I think the AFL is as culpable as the club for not putting in processes to protect the players.

''They are mandated to ensure there's a safe workplace.''

Cleary says football has not had adequate systems in place to protect players from occupational health and safety hazards. ''I don't always want to be blaming people, but let's face it, it's a problem. It is a failing of the organisation without any shadow of a doubt,'' he said.

''The AFL and the AFLPA, they haven't been tooled up for these matters.''  Cleary said occupational health and safety experts should be employed at every AFL club. 

A frequent critic of the AFL, Jess manages Essendon's Nathan Lovett-Murray. He said Brownlow medallist Watson discussed the Bombers' supplements program with him after it was revealed publicly.

While Essendon players, including Watson, have said they were convinced that the program was entirely above board, Jess says that system must be acknowledged as imperfect.

''The mantra up until now is that the club doctor was the person you could go to,'' Jess said. ''What we can conclude is that failed, and it will continue to fail because in most cases I think the AFL doctors - whilst their heart is in the right place - they're often compromised.

''The AFL is mandated to ensure that players have a safe workplace, and to have a safe workplace it must have a process of being monitored on a regular basis. If that system had been in place we wouldn't have this outcome.''

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