AFL Player’s Association acting CEO Ian Prendergast has confirmed that lawyers acting for Essendon players issued show cause notices by ASADA have formally requested an extension of the 10-day period they were granted to respond the notices.
Prendergast, speaking on Wednesday morning, said players would not respond to the ASADA notices until documents it had sought from the agency were provided.
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ASADA 'suggesting players haven't fully cooperated'
Acting AFLPA chief Ian Prendergast says Essendon players' legal teams want ASADA to provide them with all the documents they intend putting to the anti-doping panel.
He said ASADA had so far refused to provide any of the evidence the players require.
Prendergast criticised ASADA chief Ben McDevitt's statements about discounts for players who agree to accept sanctions, saying this suggested that players had not co-operated with ASADA during the investigation into Essendon's controversial supplements scheme.
He insisted players have co-operated fully with ASADA since the beginning of the joint investigation run by the AFL and ASADA, and ASADA investigators had praised their frank responses.
"The players’ legal team has now written to ASADA to request an extension to the 10 day period in which they were asked to respond, and to request a copy of all documents and other materials that ASADA proposes to put to the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel in respect of the players," Prendergast said.
"To date, the players’ lawyers have not been provided with the evidence which would enable players to respond to the show cause notices, and their requests to be provided with this material have been refused.
"The CEO of ASADA, Ben McDevitt, has publicly urged players to come forward and co-operate with ASADA, and suggested that players may be able to utilise a plea of ‘no significant fault or negligence’, and have their penalties reduced on the basis of ‘substantial assistance’.
"In saying this, Mr McDevitt seems to be suggesting that players have not fully co-operated with ASADA, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The players have done nothing but cooperate with ASADA, as they were advised to do by their Association, their club, the AFL and by ASADA officials. ASADA’s investigators have praised the players, who they considered professional, co-operative and sincere in their efforts to assist the investigation.
"In circumstances where not one player believes he has taken a prohibited substance, and where the players have not been provided the evidence on which ASADA relies to make this claim, why would any player consider the approach that Mr McDevitt suggests."
Prendergast said the request was not a delaying tactic and players were keen to have the matter dealt with as soon as possible. He urged ASADA and Essendon to take steps to expedite the Federal Court action over the show cause notices.
Justice John Middleton, who will hear the case put forward by the Bombers and suspended coach James Hird, arguing that joint ASADA and AFL investigation was unlawful, has said he believes a resolution can be delivered relatively quickly. Bombers lawyer Josh Bornstein says he hopes the trial begins within three months.
Prendergast said the question of discounts for sanctions was premature when no evidence of wrongdoing on the behalf of players had been produced.
"ASADA, as a model litigant, has a duty to provide players with the evidence to enable them to respond to the show cause notices. If it refuses to provide this information voluntarily, then the players will be forced to take legal action to ensure that ASADA complies with its model litigant obligations and acts fairly with respect to the players," Prendergast said.
"The players’ legal team will also ask ASADA to stay the show cause process, including referral of these matters to the ADRVP, until after the club’s Federal Court action has been concluded.
"It is important to note that this request is not a delaying tactic – the players are, in fact, keen for this matter to be resolved, given the length of time in which this has now dragged on.
"However, it makes no sense to subject players to the next stage in this process, in circumstances where the club’s legal action may subsequently render the process invalid. We therefore urge ASADA and the Club to take steps to expedite this process in the Federal Court to finalise this matter at the earliest opportunity."
The show cause notices for 34 players who were at Essendon in 2012 are the first steps in a process that could result in suspension for individuals of up to two years. These suspensions can be reduced if players are co-operate fully with ASADA and are deemed to have been duped by club medical staff.
ASADA's action relates to use of Thymosin beta-4, a peptide which aids recovery and is banned by anti-doping codes. Essendon and its suspended coach James Hird have launched separate injunctions disputing the legality of the joint ASADA-AFL investigation into the club's 2012 supplements program.
Essendon's court case against ASADA's potential suspension of its players begins in the Federal Court on June 27.
- with AAP