- Essendon players banned for 2016 season
- What the CAS decision means
- James Hird claims a 'miscarriage of justice'
- Live coverage: Essendon/CAS decision
The players are entitled to be angry. They're entitled to be despondent. They're entitled to be litigious and to seek redress for a disaster that was largely the work of others. But they shouldn't be surprised.
Essendon CAS decision: Nightmare for players
Ben Cousins hospitalised
AFL plays of round 14
Giants tower over Blues
Saints edge Cats in thriller
Pies survive chill to belt Dockers
Tigers boycott Triple M
FootyFix: Can young Sainters upstage Geelong?
Essendon CAS decision: Nightmare for players
Will we ever see team captain Jobe Watson again? The Age's senior football writer Rohan Connolly has the details.
Certainly, the seven players, including Jobe Watson, who gave evidence in the Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing, would have known that this awful outcome was a distinct possibility.
We should be braced for serious fall-out – starting with law suits from players against Essendon and potentially the AFL. For nearly three years, the Essendon 34 have been told they were innocent, which was correct only in a moral sense – as the subject of a botched "pharmaceutical experiment", the players were the least culpable party in the Essendon debacle.
Unfortunately, they were being judged on whether they were injected with a banned substance, not on whether they deserved punishment after three years of hell.
While this verdict will disrupt the footy universe, is terrible for the game, and unjust on a moral level, it can't be surprising to anyone with a knowledge of the draconian international doping arrangements and basic insights into what happened in that room overlooking Sydney Harbour, at Allen's law firm, where the Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing was held in November.
In football terms, the players found themselves wearing the white shorts in this appeal. They faced a foe that was stronger, better prepared and more cogent than ASADA, the previous adversary that was comprehensively beaten by the players on the eve of the 2015 season.
The most telling difference between the first AFL hearing and the CAS catastrophe was the background of the people hearing the second case and the way they viewed similar evidence. This time, the three men deliberating on whether the players had taken thymosin beta-4 comprised a distinguished English QC, a London-based Belgian barrister and an ex-NSW chief justice (and ABC chairman). The European pair had extensive experience in doping cases.
Expert witnesses were imported, like visiting lecturers, from Cologne and the United States, to buttress the circumstantial case that had been described and derided as "weak". Given the international flavour of key players – and the lack of AFL connections – they might as well have held this hearing in Switzerland.
On a broader level, the verdict's significance is that Australian football – a powerful, but entirely insular domestic sport – has been unable to quarantine a group of players from international sporting protocols. The AFL could protect the players from ASADA, but the appeal took them outside their own domain.
Sources cite two stand-out differences between the black shorts hearing and the unsuccessful road trip. One was that WADA's Richard Young, the vaunted doping expert who had helped bring down Lance Armstrong, presented a tighter and more compelling narrative than ASADA. The other was that the panel had a different view of the standard of proof. The AFL Tribunal effectively asked ASADA to prove its case. The CAS tacitly posed a different question - what do we think happened?
WADA also benefited from the "De novo" format of the hearing; Young didn't have to waste time with the laborious detail, as ASADA had. He just focused on where the case could be made, plugging holes in ASADA's case and was able to pinpoint the weaknesses in the Essendon players' defence.
WADA, as the CAS judgment suggests, made far better use of the mass spectrometer evidence that ASADA had uncovered late in the day for the AFL hearing. WADA brought an American expert to the hearing, Dr Cox, in addition to ASADA's expert, Professor David Handelsman.
The AFL Tribunal hadn't even been comfortably satisfied that TB4 had been procured from China. By successfully presenting the mass spectrometer evidence - which involved the molecular weight nearly matching the banned substance (4971 compared to TB4's 4963) - WADA had more or less put TB4 in Dank's hands.This was reflected in the CAS decision. The CAS said that the substance - the so-called "second batch" - that chemist Nima Alavi had given to Stephen Dank in May 2012 was TB4.
The players managed to successfully negate the elevated levels of TB4 that had been found in frozen re-tested samples, with the CAS dismissing the importance of this to the outcome. This small victory, alas, was completely irrelevant to the decision.
But the guilty verdict wasn't actually the worst part of the judgment for the players. No, it is the sentence that is most destructive - and which may have some players investigating legal avenues - be they in Swiss or Australian courts. Essendon and the players (including the five at other clubs) could have endured short bans.
The prospect of a severe sentence, rather than the long-mooted short ban, also emerged as a distinct possibility - or likelihood - during the hearing. Some players surely will wonder whether they might have taken a deal.
Michael Beloff, the London QC who chaired the hearing, expressed two views that there were ominous for the players and their legal representatives. One was that he was troubled by many players' failure to declare "thymosin" - banned or not - when they were drug-tested by ASADA in 2012. The CAS judgment would say that this failure to disclose injections "does not encourage confidence in their statements as to the limited or sporadic nature of what they were injected with".
During the hearing, Beloff also questioned why the players should be entitled to a discount for no significant fault - indeed, he basically voiced the view that he couldn't see how they'd qualify. They were never going to receive a discount for cooperation, which is difficult to obtain.The lack of records that had worked in the players' favour in the first hearing was also viewed less benignly by the CAS.
Today, it seems astonishing that the players will serve a season's ban nearly three years after the investigation began. It will be the blackest day for many in football, and especially for the 34.
Should Jobe Watson be stripped of his 2012 Brownlow Medal?
Poll closed 5 Apr, 2016
Disclaimer: These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.