AFL

Essendon CAS verdict: Why the Bombers' penalty was so different to Cronulla's

A full-season suspension of Essendon players for taking performance enhancing drugs and only a three-game ban for Cronulla footballers?

The main difference is the Sharks admitted taking banned drugs, while the Bombers, over three long years, have persistently pleaded they did nothing wrong.

Strict liability exists with drug use in world sport. Athletes are responsible for everything they ingest. OK, Cronulla players insisted they were duped by their club and sports scientist, Stephen Dank, but did admit to the use of the banned CJC-1295.

ASADA rules allow for a 12-month discount for substantial assistance and Cronulla players, after some initial misgivings, readily co-operated with ASADA investigators.

The NRL, then led by chief executive Dave Smith, allowed ASADA to conduct its interviews without any interference.

The AFL first sought to cut a special deal with Julia Gillard's Federal Government for Essendon players, freeing them of any sanctions, a deal which was not made available to Cronulla.

Advertisement

This discriminatory treatment led to the resignation of a long-term ASADA counsel, John Marshall SC and the revelation of this in the Fairfax press forced a confrontation between Smith and Prime Minister Gillard where, Smith told me later, "She was very angry".

The AFL then organised a joint investigation with ASADA.

The Cronulla supplements program began a year earlier than Essendon's.

Dank left Cronulla in April 2011 to begin work at Essendon at the end of that season.

The Cronulla injection program was abandoned after a month, when the club doctor learnt of the drug use. Essendon's lasted an entire season. The NRL's was a cottage operation compared to the AFL club's sophisticated thousand-needle regime.

Despite the Cronulla breaches occurring earlier, the ASADA interviews with the Sharks players were put on hold while ASADA investigators moved south to interview Essendon players.

ASADA did offer Essendon a three-month penalty – the same as one quickly accepted by Cronulla – but it was rejected and Bombers coach James Hird initiated legal action against the AFL and ASADA, thereby removing the lighter sanction from the table.

When a sports court finally asked Essendon players to appear before it, nearly three years had passed. Cronulla players quickly accepted their three-month sanction which effectively meant they missed only the final three games of a season in which the club was already out of the semi-finals.

CAS was not impressed with some of the evidence given by seven Bombers players in November.

Drug protocol requires players to list all substances taken, yet when Essendon players were asked by ASADA had they taken any substances, the answers were repeatedly, no, no, no.

Yet, of the seven interviewed by CAS, six said they had been given thymosin and another said he saw the name on a vial.

CAS asked the seven to explain this inconsistency and was clearly not satisfied with the answers.

When the "blackest day in Australian sport" dawned, ministers of the Gillard Federal Government and AFL executives were quick to lampoon the NRL as a haphazard, unsophisticated operation.

But the administration of the newly appointed chief executive, Smith, allowed ASADA to do its job and the Sharks players fessed up, albeit to being duped, although ASADA suspects they knew more than they revealed.

Sure, they did not want to persist with legal action because they would have had to fund the litigation themselves. But Essendon, with all their resources, played a game where in the end, their players will be branded with the same drug cheat label as Cronulla. Plus cause the AFL to have virtually a 17-club season in 2016.

Perhaps there are now some politicians, even Rupert Murdoch, comparing the administrations of the two biggest football codes in Australia, together with the notion, "We've always preferred Aussie rules".

Advertisement

64 comments

Comment are now closed