Essendon’s decision to pursue a court injunction against the supplements investigation last week was popularly viewed as an attempt to wriggle out of a tight spot on a technicality. But should that still be the case?
Given the events of the past few days, isn’t this now about an organisation showing understandable reticence to deal with a process flawed from the beginning in terms of evidence, procedure and, it now emerges, ethics as well?
Because what has transpired since last Thursday makes it increasingly apparent the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority - the body set to deliver judgement on 34 Essendon players - is in no position to be running a school cake stall, let alone determining the careers and livelihoods of professional athletes.
The prevailing view was that Essendon’s players should, regardless of their belief in their innocence, take the ''candy'' of the six-month suspensions offered to them by new ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt.
Surely that can’t be on the basis they’ll be treated fairly, of which there’s been precious little evidence.
If McDevitt’s round of media appearances last week were supposed to give the impression of an ASADA sheriff firmly in control, they did the exact opposite.
First, McDevitt blithely announced that AOD-9604 - the very substance upon which most of the public crucifixion of the Essendon players had rested for a year-and-a-half - was no longer part of the rap sheet.
Then, incredibly, he conceded he wasn’t even sure what the burden of proof was for ASADA to reach a point of invoking suspensions.
He went on to offer that if Essendon players accepted their guilt, they would receive a 75 per cent reduction in what for so long were being touted as mandatory maximum sentences.
That didn’t seem to betray a lot of confidence in the strength of evidence gathered.
But at least McDevitt wasn’t in the chair when ASADA colluded with the AFL to pre-determine that Essendon players would not be sanctioned individually (confirmed in leaked emails), and the basis on which they agreed to co-operate. A deal on which ASADA subsequently welched just two weeks later.
Is it any surprise given that catalogue of contradictions, ignorance and lies that the players now are reluctant to listen to anything ASADA has to say?
McDevitt’s attempt to plea bargain clearly implied guilt, something Essendon’s players still vigorously deny.
Then they were accused of holding the game to ransom, despite being the pawns in the continual blundering and politicking by a range of bodies, including their own club, supposedly looking after their interests.
Don’t they at least deserve the right to be able to view the alleged evidence against them without a presumption of guilt from the very body that would determine their fate? Not that the players haven’t already been tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion.
Ask Jobe Watson about that one. For the past year he has had to shrug not only at the same cat-calling levelled at his teammates, but demands that he be stripped of his 2012 Brownlow Medal for allegedly using a substance that this investigation is no longer interested in.
Watson was hung out to dry. Particularly by ASADA, which presumably knew for a year that it could not prosecute him for something not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency until two months after the investigation began.
That protracted confusion between ASADA and its world parent body over AOD-9604’s status serves as yet another example of the Australian chapter’s incompetence. Not that there’s not some serious doubts about WADA’s credibility either.
As sports lawyer and general secretary of the Australian Athletes’ Alliance, Brendan Schwab, said on Monday, WADA’s modus operandi is political coercion, governments and sporting bodies alike fearful of being excluded from the Olympics if they don’t comply.
WADA’s ''one-size-fits-all'' code is ill-suited to team sports, particularly in this case, where Essendon’s players were following the instructions of their employer, which assured them what they were taking was both legal and safe.
No one, not even Essendon, disputes how shoddy its supplements program was run. But that lack of appropriate governance has already been dealt with via the heftiest team and club penalties in AFL history.
Why should the club’s players, kicked from pillar to post these past couple of years, be pawns yet again in a game of double jeopardy?
Essendon’s players have been the patsy in this soap opera from the word go, and ASADA has been complicit in the undermining of not only their reputations, but their mental health as well.
Take six months? Surely no one in the position of the Essendon players would be answering that question with anything other than: ''Take a hike.''