A speech by the AFL’s chief medical officer is just the latest grievance held by the AFL Players Association over the league’s handling of the Essendon drugs investigation.
Talks between representatives of both parties on Thursday left the AFLPA understanding - but not accepting - the circumstances of Dr Peter Harcourt divulging sensitive information relating to the ongoing Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation at an international sports conference in November.
In a development that incensed the AFLPA, it emerged through a Federal Court directions hearing on Wednesday that Harcourt told a filmed anti-doping conference in Zurich that Essendon players were being monitored for ''potential hormonal issues or cancers''.
He also claimedEssendon players did not ''jack up'' in protest against the club’s 2011-12 supplements program.
Harcourt is understood to have since relayed that he did not expect the subject matter of his talk to go beyond the select audience, let alone to be filmed.
The surfacing of Harcourt’s conference address triggered a stinging public rebuke from acting AFLPA chief executive Ian Prendergast on Thursday, that was subsequently followed up behind closed doors.
Fairfax Media understands the talks involved AFL integrity officer Brett Clothier and AFLPA legal representative Brett Murphy, but while acknowledging there had been follow-up, AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said the league had no comment.
The latest gripe of the AFLPA, concerning what it considers another AFL-linked mishandling of sensitive information, follows a failed push last year by the association to have the names of Essendon footballers redacted from the interim report provided by ASADA to the league.
Correspondence from the AFLPA, seen by Fairfax Media, effectively lays blame on the AFL for the fact that footballers who were named in what was meant to be a confidential investigation update from ASADA were subsequently identified in media reports.
The correspondence from Prendergast to player agents, sent in March - the day after 14 implicated players were identified in a News Ltd report - suggests the footballers could have been protected if the AFL or ASADA had redacted their names from the interim report.
Fearing privileged information about the players could leak into the public domain, a concern that proved valid, Prendergast documented how the AFLPA ''expressly requested'' that footballers be ''de-identified'' in the interim report the AFL used as a reference to sanction Essendon on the eve of last year’s finals series.
The correspondence from Prendergast, who was then the general manager of player relations at the AFLPA, stated: ''In our view, there was no justification for the players’ names to have been listed in ASADA’s interim report in the first place, and we expressly requested that their names be redacted from the report in August last year.
''We also requested at the time that the AFL take immediate and proactive steps to prevent the publication of any player’s name by any news organisations. If those requests had been heeded, the weekend’s unfortunate events could have been avoided.''
Fairfax Media has been told the AFLPA wrote to the AFL and ASADA last year to outline its request regarding the protection of players’ identities in the interim report.
It argued the publication of footballers’ names was not required given the stated purpose of the interim report was to help the AFL make judgments on Essendon’s governance and not to determine whether any anti-doping rule violations had occurred.