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Essendon desperate for clarity as burden of supplements inquiry becomes close to intolerable

Essendon captain Jobe Watson.

Essendon captain Jobe Watson. Photo: Pat Scala

Several hours before the ball was bounced to start the Collingwood-Essendon Anzac Day clash, Bombers captain Jobe Watson spoke to his chairman Paul Little and implored him to seek an end game to what for him and his teammates had become an intolerably long doping probe. 

Watson still stands to lose his 2012 Brownlow Medal and with at least 11 other teammates still face being charged with taking banned substances, something – if proven – the new boss of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority says is his responsibility and his alone. More than two weeks have passed since then. Watson remains without comfort, Little is still searching for answers. 

Watson’s comments to Little reportedly came among several conversations between club chairman and his players before the famous blockbuster and go a long way towards explaining Little’s stated regret later that Essendon had self-reported at all. 

Although those comments were regrettable, Little did make a good point. The Essendon players’ cooperation with ASADA and the AFL has done them no favours to date and has certainly failed to achieve closure on what has proved to be bureaucratic bungling of the highest order. There is no doubt the Bombers’ form has been affected by the ongoing uncertainty and for that they deserve some sympathy. According to Essendon staffers, some players have become increasingly stressed to the point of being traumatised by the ongoing uncertainty and increasing level of speculation. Any off-field scandal that indirectly affects an entire team wears players down eventually. 

Monday’s Fairfax Media revelation that up to 40 Bombers or former Bombers who played at the club in 2012 will receive show-cause letters from ASADA which could lead to infraction notices came as a shock to the club as it did to the AFL and the AFL Players Association. Those letters could come as soon as Tuesday and almost certainly by the end of the month. 

The club is understood to have made repeated attempts to seek clarity through either meetings or telephone hook-ups with former ASADA boss Aurora Andruska and/or federal sports minister Peter Dutton, but meetings have been cancelled and telephone calls not returned. Essendon’s attempts to make contact with new ASADA boss Ben McDevitt on Monday were said to be unsuccessful. 

The Bombers’ view is that they deserve some form of clarity at worst or at best an explanation for revelations about their players reported in the media.

There is even a view among some club directors that any decision would be preferable to the state of limbo in which the club is working. 

The players have continued to choose the path of collective representation and every case at this stage is being handled by Queen’s Counsel David Grace who remains determined that no player was aware he took a banned substance and that every player signed documents which attested to that fact. According to McDevitt’s on Friday, this will not save them if he can prove those substances were banned. 

Clearly when Essendon self-reported it did so in the belief that co-operation would prove its best and most decisive avenue. It remains unclear just what deal was struck between the club, ASADA and the AFL, but whatever the agreement, it appears not to have not done the players any favours. 

Of course they are not blameless and Carlton veteran Chris Judd made a good point when he stated on the eve of the season that he would hope he would have the courage to say no when faced with a similar jab-happy scenario. But that now is just a matter for hindsight, as are Little’s self-reporting regrets.

More problematic is that several coaches failed to stop the program and were promoted at the end of it all with the senior coach paid while suspended and his contract extended until the end of 2016. In any other industry James Hird would be looking for a new pursuit. Surely if infraction notices come, he will finally accept responsibility and walk away. 

Meanwhile he is away in France on a gap half-year and Essendon continues to toil under a growing cloud which could after all ambush another football season.

23 comments so far

  • Caroline you seem to be encouraging people feel sorry for the Essendon players? As a professional sportsman/woman you must take responsibility for whatever you consume. When sportspeople are found guilty of course the players AND the sport suffer. Look at cycling. There is a bigger issue though if the sport takes no action. Drugs are a problem in every sport. The sports that claim innocence are possibly the most fallible to darker truths. Cycling has been much maligned but the reality is that sport has had considerable success in identifying the cheats and its blood passport system is a leading tool against drug cheating. Cycling has also realised that while drug cheating technology is often ahead of testing and its often impossible to find the smoking gun, there are other ways to identify and convict such as by witness statements eg. Lance Armstrong. The AFL cannot play innocent or naive to this issue. Rather it needs to make a stand and accept findings inevitably to be handed down by ASADA.

    Commenter
    Fletch
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    May 13, 2014, 12:50PM
    • Fletch. Comparing this to cycling is wrong. Essendon players were told that, what they were being injected with was legal, approved by ASADA, and even asked to sign forms assuring them all was above board. Cycling the cyclist, not only knew the substances were banned, but worked with others to hide its use. Regardless of Essendon Football clubs rights or wrongs, this matter should have been sorted well before the Season started with Essendon and its players having had time to accept or challenge any findings. Lets hope with a new boss and ex Senior Police Officer running the show, ASADA gets its act together. I do feel sorry for Essendons players. I am yet to hear of any proof they knowingly took banned substances, have you heard of or seen proof of this, I bet not.

      Commenter
      Go Blues
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 2:41PM
    • I'm not a Bombers fan but even I feel sorry that this has been hanging over their heads for so long. ASADA is under resourced and given the budget cuts, am not expecting anything to happen too quickly.

      Commenter
      Catherine
      Date and time
      May 14, 2014, 8:44AM
  • Another day another Fairbax beat up story claiming something that no one else is privy too.

    I am wonderstruck at how ASADA claim they have no leaks yet fairfax is coming out with stories like this claiming players are getting show cause letters.

    Clearly one of them is full of it.

    Commenter
    what?
    Date and time
    May 13, 2014, 12:57PM
    • I am staggered that this is still hanging over all at EFC. It's bordering on the ridiculous & can only imagine how stressful it must be for the players. Talk about slow torture!

      Commenter
      Borissimo
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 1:38PM
      • This decision has taken that long you'd wonder if time served would be the appropiate sentence?

        Commenter
        Free the Bombers
        Date and time
        May 13, 2014, 2:33PM
        • For the players, yes. For those who authorized the program, not even close.

          Commenter
          Stephen
          Date and time
          May 13, 2014, 4:43PM
      • Watch out if any Essendon players do get suspended for a year or two. I can see mass payouts to them, if they can prove they were told by the club the injections were approved by ASADA. May cost some there careers.

        Commenter
        Go Blues
        Date and time
        May 13, 2014, 2:45PM
        • The new man in charge of ASADA has made it clear that ignorance is no defence. So it doesn’t matter if a player (or coach) was a willing or unwilling participant in the supplements program.
          If drugs were taken to gain an advantage over opponents, or as a short cut to success, then it was unashamed cheating and deserved punishments will have to be administered.

          Commenter
          Modern Life is Rubbish
          Date and time
          May 13, 2014, 2:54PM
          • Yes, but this is not a matter of ignorance. It is a matter of misrepresentation and Essendon players, if charged and forced to challenge, would not be hard pressed to prove that the club provided a representation and substantial authoritative assurances (including an approval letter from WADA) that what they were being given was above board. You cannot call someone ignorant who is presented with that kind of representation. Add to that the duty of care that underpins the club's relationship to its players and you have misrepresentation and negligence, not ignorance.

            Commenter
            Colin Zeal
            Location
            Essendon
            Date and time
            May 13, 2014, 4:23PM

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