AFL imposes deadline on Essendon negotiations
Peter Hanlon and Shane McGuiness try to pass the time outside AFL House, awaiting a decision on the fate of Essendon football club.PT3M47S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2snq2 620 349 August 27, 2013
James Hird has entered a second day of league discussions with an intention to issue the AFL with an ultimatum that could yet see the Essendon supplements scandal played out in court.
The Essendon coach, confronting a 12-month suspension from the game and fighting serious misconduct charges, prepared for another day at AFL House on Tuesday resolute that an independent arbiter should determine his fate rather than the AFL Commission.
Before day two of negotiations, the plan in Hird’s legal camp was clear: if the Commission refused to refer Hird’s case to an independent tribunal, proceeding would not continue at AFL House but in the Victorian Supreme Court.
Essendon coach James Hird arrives at AFL House on Tuesday. Photo: Pat Scala
On the eve of the finals series, after a season already marred by a seven-month drugs probe led by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, the AFL is desperate to resolve the matter.
At odds with the rest of the competition, Essendon is prepared to accept heavy punishment for the extreme supplements program run at the club in late 2011 and 2012, including disqualification from this year’s finals series. The four individuals charged with conduct unbecoming, however, are fighting for their reputations and Hird’s defiant stance was said to be unfaltering on Tuesday morning.
Essendon is not authorised to accept penalties on behalf of any of the four individuals charged with conduct unbecoming – Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, football chief Danny Corcoran and club doctor Bruce Reid.
To escalate his procedural grievance with the AFL, Hird last week lodged a writ in the Supreme Court that demanded the league’s solicitors provide particulars around his charges. As of Tuesday morning, those details – and a request for a list of witnesses who would mount a case against the Essendon coach – had not been provided.
If Hird’s charges are heard by a tribunal, rather than by the AFL Commission, it is widely agreed that such proceedings could not practically commence – let alone be concluded – before the end of September.
During an epic meeting of the AFL Commission on Monday, Hird’s legal team, headed by Julian Burnside, QC, again foreshadowed an intention to proceed with Supreme Court action if pushed. Hird was accompanied by his wife, Tania, a lawyer who has been a key adviser to her husband throughout the season-long affair.
In the aftermath of Essendon’s stirring victory over Carlton on Saturday night – a result that kept the club in seventh position on the AFL ladder – Hird said he disputed 99 per cent of the allegations levelled against him in an AFL charge sheet that has remained confidential.
Thompson, who is also charged with conduct unbecoming but faces far more lenient sanctioning for his role in the supplements program, has said he disputes 80 per cent of the allegations levelled against him.
Two weeks ago, Hird’s solicitors lodged an extraordinary challenge to the AFL Commission by demanding a public hearing of the case against him in an independent tribunal no sooner than two weeks after the finals. Hird maintains that the Commission is not the appropriate body to judge him after its members were provided with an interim report from ASADA containing evidence that he disputes.
Hird remains adamant that AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, also a member of the Commission, is a conflicted party who should not sit in judgment of the matter. Hird’s lawyers argue that Demetriou has revealed on several occasions that he has formed an adverse view of the Essendon coach. When commenting about the Essendon supplements scandal in April, Demetriou said standing aside was “an option he [Hird] has to consider”.
Bill Kelty removed himself from AFL Commission deliberations on Essendon early this year due to his relationships with Hird and former Bomber chairman David Evans.
The AFL has maintained that the Commission is the appropriate body to rule on the supplements case – which remains open in the view of ASADA – and Demetriou says he intends to be involved in deliberations.
Despite being criticised for his aggressive stance in football circles, Hird continues to act on independent legal advice. He is now under increasing pressure from Essendon, however, to expedite a resolution for the good of the game.
In early July, the AFL’s deputy CEO, Gillon McLachlan, told Fairfax Media it was imperative the “integrity” of this year’s finals series be protected through a resolution of the matter before the four-week season climax.
''We're committed to bringing it to a head in August to ensure that we have a resolution of the issue prior to the finals series,” McLachlan said.
''I think it goes to the heart of the integrity of our finals series.''
Hird’s legal team is mounting a separate challenge of the validity of ASADA’s 400-page interim report that was delivered to the AFL on August 2. Hird’s grievance centres on the fact he was interviewed by ASADA and AFL investigators once – in April – and that he was not given the opportunity to respond to evidence gathered in interviews with other parties before the interim report was produced.