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Essendon continues to duck for cover

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt Golding

COMMENT

The latest and potentially most laughable attempt by Essendon to make the AFL accountable for its own dangerous and potentially illegal drugs program has struck a chord as the club continues to point the finger and duck for cover while making its way through a costly line of courtrooms.

And that chord has nothing to do with the Bombers’ illogical conspiracy theories nor their delusional attacks on the AFL’s Dr Peter Harcourt. What has become increasingly apparent as the club continues to show no remorse is that the AFL was soft on Essendon.

The Adelaide Football Club has every right to question why Essendon has been allowed back into the national draft at the end of its first round when the Crows were stripped of two rounds of picks for two years over the Kurt Tippett affair – a serious transgression but incomparable to the human experimentation that went on at Windy Hill.

Adelaide chief executive Stephen Trigg deserved his six month unpaid suspension, but he must be wondering how James Hird – whose actions caused his club to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute – was given a two-year contract extension and a fully-paid gap year at a time when Essendon is rattling the tins to pay for its new Tullamarine facility.

Departed Melbourne football boss Chris Connolly, along with friends and family of the late Dean Bailey – both suspended for their role in the tanking affair – must be wondering how senior assistant Mark Thompson won a promotion and a pay rise for failing to control the drug program instigated by Stephen Dank, Dean Robinson and Hird.

The AFL fined Thompson the paltry sum of $30,000 and gave him more for than 12 months to pay it. Now Thompson is questioning the fine on the basis that Harcourt disparaged Essendon by telling the truth in a keynote speech to an international conference. If that was disparagement, then what were Tania Hird’s public rantings and conspiracy theories?

Thompson’s latest pearler on the subject would be laughable too if the situation was not so shameful. The caretaker coach said on Friday that no harmful drugs were given to his players. "There’s no risk," said Thompson. "One actually helps in part of the treatment for cancer."

Thompson, who virtually appointed himself Hird’s mentor and guide and was paid handsomely to be as much, had no right nor basis to form this opinion because the club still cannot tell the players what drugs they were given. The players were warned by ASADA and AFL investigators and their players’ union last year that they faced long-term health risks and yet Harcourt has been used as their fall guy for mentioning cancer because his organisation is helping monitor those risks.

At any rate Thompson’s comments begged the question: Why were the Bombers given anti-carcinogenic drugs? Why for that matter were they given anti-obesity drugs? Why on earth were they given a drug used for the treatment of muscular dystrophy? Why is the club trying to stall ASADA’s investigation when the players and their families deserve answers, not avoidance?

But the AFL was weakest of all in its handling of club doctor Bruce Reid. That Harcourt has been in the gun, when Essendon had a doctor whose obligation was to put his players’ health ahead of personal friendships and club loyalty and yet could not meet those obligations, remains baffling.

Reid was so concerned about the drugs program he wrote a letter to senior football staff including Hird. He now says he believed his concerns had been dealt with and that he was frozen out. How can Reid have been so blind for so many months?

And if he was, why did he show ongoing slavish devotion to Hird throughout the course of last year as the awful truth emerged? Reid had a responsibility to know what was happening and follow up on his disturbing letter. It is not enough for him to alone blame Dank and Robinson.

In the end, he failed his players and now the system must monitor them over the long term for all manner of serious health problems.

Reid should have been suspended but was saved by his longevity in the job, the implications for his medical status and the good bloke discount that applies too often in the AFL.

Essendon in turn admitted him into the club’s Hall Of Fame.

And yet Reid believed he escaped suspension because he threatened to take the AFL to court. Hird believes he took the fall for others and now apparently – despite his heartfelt apology to the Commission last August – is back to square one in the belief he did nothing wrong. How on earth can he be entrusted with his players again if he cannot see what he was guilty of in the past?

The legal manoeuvre by Essendon and Hird is damaging to the game. Hird remains delusional, but the action cannot help the 34 players he purports to defend in the long run. Was Hird – and Reid for that matter – to finally put his hand up and admit to some serious failings then that would help the footballers he failed as the players’ defence is largely based upon the fact they were misled.

But that is unlikely to happen. The way we see it Hird loses either way. Should the players receive infraction notices his job is gone and so – potentially – is his payout. Should he finally do the right thing and take responsibility and stop the finger-pointing he clearly fears he will lose his job, and what lies ahead for him then?

Gemba? Unlikely. Who could possibly turn to a company Hird once fronted, a company priding itself on corporate governance expertise with Hird as a major player?

This regime – including the board which continues to push its legal charade in an attempt to bury the truth – remains so deluded regarding its clear responsibilities. That anyone involved with Essendon attempted to spread the story that the alleged player mother who called Triple M was a fraud when that could not have been known is so shameful.

Then again perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This after all was a regime born in deception. As matters stand that is probably the way it will die. But that death looks headed to be long and slow.

Had the AFL been tougher, truly taken Essendon on, worried less about the deal and avoiding court and more about doing the right thing then perhaps the short-term pain of a troubled September would have been worth the long-term gain.

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