Essendon players and their legal representatives have won an extension – until July 11 – to respond to the allegations of banned drug use that have been outlined in show-cause notices from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.
The new deadline, revealed by Fairfax Media on Thursday, effectively doubles the time Essendon players and their legal representatives have to determine how – and if – they will respond to the show-cause notices. ASADA CEO Ben McDevitt subsequently confirmed he had granted an extension of what was originally a 10-working day deadline for responses to the 34 notices concerning current and past Essendon footballers.
Any responses to thenotices that are lodged with ASADA will be forwarded to the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel. That panel comprises a group of government-appointed sport, law and anti-doping experts who work at arms length from ASADA and review all anti-doping cases pursued by the agency.
The ADRVP is set to consider the cases ASADA has built against the footballers over the past 16 months and determine whether any entries on ASADA's Register of Findings are warranted. That is the action that typically triggers an instruction from ASADA to the relevant sporting body – in this case the AFL – to issue an infraction notice.
By issuing the notices, ASADA has demanded that the 34 past and present Essendon players – some of whom are now at other AFL clubs – prove that they did not use banned drug Thymosin beta 4 as part of the Bombers’ supplements program in 2012. Acting CEO of the AFLPA, Ian Prendergast, stated this week that ''not one player believes he has taken a prohibited substance''.
The deadline extension means that the Federal Court proceedings filed by the Essendon Football Club and James Hird – action that is challenging the legality of investigations the AFL and ASADA conducted jointly until August last year, but which ASADA continued independently until February this year – could be resolved before players respond to their notices.
The directions hearing for the Federal Court matter being led by Essendon and Hird is set for June 27. The AFLPA has made a separate request to ASADA that no action be taken on the show-cause notices issued to players until after that Federal Court matter is resolved. Lawyers involved have estimated a finding could be reached within a day's sitting, however there could also be appeals.
In a third formal request lodged with ASADA this week, the legal team working for Essendon players has also asked that the anti-doping agency provide evidence to back up its allegations regarding players’ potential use of banned drug Thymosin beta 4.
ASADA is yet to respond to those additional requests.
Thymosin beta 4 is classified as an S2 substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency Code – a classification that would typically translate into an athlete receiving a ban of between six months and two years provided an anti-doping authority, such as ASADA, proves use of the substance to the satisfaction of an appropriate tribunal.