A potential appeal by banned Essendon players against their anti-doping penalty could taint an AFL season and have adverse ramifications for those players still in the league.
It emerged on Tuesday that former Dons player Nathan Lovett-Murray is ready to be party to an appeal, but his manager admits it would be a "high-stakes" gamble.
Lovett-Murray has instructed his manager Peter Jess to pursue an appeal to the Swiss Federal Court should lawyer and Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon choose that path.
Gordon and his son Patrick, also a lawyer, are weighing up whether to take on the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision banning the Dogs' two players – AFL-listed Stewart Crameri and now VFL player and development coach Brent Prismall – for a year for being administered the banned drug thymosin beta-4 in 2012.
Crameri and Prismall are among the 34 players suspended by CAS, with a dozen still at Essendon and five now at other AFL clubs. The remaining players could follow the Bulldogs' lead.
The bans have also had major implications for those no longer in the AFL system, including Lovett-Murray, who cannot coach his Aboriginal side in Shepparton.
As outlined by Fairfax Media on Tuesday, one angle Gordon is pursuing builds on the successful appeal against CAS by former Argentinian tennis player Guillermo Canas in 2007 through the Swiss tribunal. Jess said he had discussed the potential case with Peter Gordon.
Lawyers are also considering seeking an injunction allowing all players to resume their various roles in the football industry – including Mark McVeigh as an assistant coach with Greater Western Sydney.
Appeal papers would need to be lodged by February 10, with an injunction sought almost immediately.
"Whilst it's high-risk, there is fairly recent precedent [Canas]. The injunction would mean the players are back playing immediately," Jess said on Tuesday.
"The full hearing, if papers are lodged, could be two or three years away. It's not a bad idea, especially for the older blokes who may only have a couple of years left and could return to their clubs soon."
But there are major ramifications, because a failed appeal would mean the suspensions would reset from the date of the appeal hearing or the day a verdict was delivered, with time already served not taken into consideration.
Then there is the potential tainting of the AFL season should an injunction be granted next month and the players return and feature in finals, even a premiership, but ultimately be stripped of their premiership medals should the appeal fail.
One of the AFL's major focuses in 2013, during a joint investigation with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, was ensuring the finals series was not tainted by the potential fallout of the supplements saga.
This led to the Bombers being banned from the finals – a decision AFL chief Gillon McLachlan maintained even a fortnight ago was the right one.
A successful injunction would also mean top-up players the Bombers have signed would not be needed, with these players likely to be paid out, adding to the millions of dollars the club has already lost through the ordeal.
"On balance, it should be explored. If the advice is strong enough, then we are almost compelled to follow through," Jess said.
"If they [Essendon] were to win a flag in two year's time, and the appeal then was dismissed, it would only impact on the individual premiership medallists – not the team. The Bombers would remain as premiers."
Jess said most, if not all, of the 17 banned AFL players remained in training.
The AFL Players Association is also considering an appeal, even through the NSW Supreme Court – as the CAS hearing was held in NSW – on behalf of the other 32 players. Both appeals would likely be funded fully or in part by the players' association.
If the injunction was to fail, an appeal could still go ahead – but would almost certainly lack strength.
Canas successfully argued all the points he raised over a diuretic he accidentally took in 2005 were not all taken into account when he lost his appeal to CAS, although his two-year ban was cut to 15 months.
Many of the 34 players believe their individual arguments were not taken into account.
McVeigh is believed to have the strongest case, while another player provided unchallenged evidence that his injections had stopped well before the spectre of thymosin beta-4 emerged at Essendon.
Lovett-Murray argued he regularly asked questions about the injecting program, but was given assurances the program was legal.
Jess said Lovett-Murray, who has engaged leading sports lawyer Tony Nolan SC to help deal with his compensation case against the Bombers, understood the "high stakes" involved.
It is unclear whether an appeal would involve group action or a single plaintiff.
Former World Anti-Doping Agency boss John Fahey believes the players do not have grounds to appeal – an opinion Jess disputes.
"While I respect what Mr Fahey says, my basis is that the players were fundamentally misled. There was a fundamental breach of their care," Jess said.
"Yes, they did sign consent forms, but if the consent forms were illegally obtained, with the players not given what they were told were legal supplements, they can be considered void. This means one of the planks WADA relied on is void."