AFL

Essendon supplements saga: Fog set to lift on Bombers' drug case

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When he has been asked for his opinion on when would there be resolution in the Essendon supplements saga, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has often reverted to the corporate lingo of the league having "no visibility over it".

Essendon skipper Jobe Watson at training.
Essendon skipper Jobe Watson at training.  Photo: Getty Images

Indeed, the case involving 34 former current and former players, with so-called sports scientist Stephen Dank atop the tree, has been a fog which has hovered, indeed blinded, some since the drama officially broke almost three years ago. If you count the Australian Crime Commission's prior investigation, this saga has been four years in the making.

Now, finally, there will be "visibility" of a kind when the Court of Arbitration for Sport releases its ruling on the WADA appeal on Tuesday morning, determining whether players were administered the banned drug, Thymosin Beta 4.

There will be much relief for all parties, certainly for the players, even if they are suspended for this at least is the full stop on this part of a very thick chapter. Some could argue the players have already served a three-year suspension, for careers – and premiership hopes – have been derailed, even destroyed, through this period and not only for those handed infraction notices.

While, in theory, this will be the end of the official case, regardless of the decision, the period of review, introspection, even recrimination, begins – and it could be as interesting as the case itself.

The AFL has conducted a review of its performance, with the league opting to wait until a final decision by CAS was reached before releasing this. The league's initial moves, led by former chief Andrew Demetriou and his successor, McLachlan, and detailed in Federal Court hearings brought by James Hird and Essendon, were criticised by many.

In particular, the decision to partner with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority in conducting a joint investigation, in hindsight, was the wrong call. Demetriou said at the time it would be a template for future investigations. That's now highly unlikely.

Integrity boss Brett Clothier did interview Hird in August, 2011, and the Essendon coach was told to stay away from peptides. Surely the AFL, from this point, would have been advised to have kept a closer eye on the Bombers, and all clubs for that matter. Remember, Demetriou was already lamenting the growing impact "phys-eders", as he patronisingly referred to sports scientists as at the time, were having on the game.

ASADA may face a Senate inquiry. This may also include whether, as Federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale has suggested, the AFL continues to follow the "strict letter" of the WADA code.

"We've got to establish the facts so we can get on and fix the workplace safety and sporting integrity issues that doping creates. A broader independent review of the anti-doping response in Australia would help us get there," Di Natale said on Monday.

For the AFL Players Association, the verdict is a sobering reminder it was blindsided by what unfolded at Windy Hill amid players signing secret consent forms.

Hird, of course, is back in the courts, this time pursuing legal action against Chubb Insurance for refusing to pay his $640,000 legal bill. It's been an expensive, even heart-breaking, three years for Hird, who initially had answered 1300 questions over nine hours when interviewed by authorities in April 2013.

His once-promising career as an AFL coach is over. He had every right to take his fight to the courts but, regardless of the result on Tuesday, he will be more remembered by some for this ordeal than his days as an on-field superstar.

For the players, particularly if there are suspensions, expect some to follow the lead initiated by former teammate Hal Hunter – who was not even one of the 34 – and launch legal action against the Bombers and possibly the AFL for "negligence". But will they ever really know what they were given?

The fog may be set to clear to a great degree, but there is still a sting in the tale of a case that has the ingredients to rival any documentary produced by ESPN's famed 30 for 30 series, and one that could even be brought to life on the big screen.

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