The AFL is expected to charge Essendon on Monday, together with the club's coaching, training and medical staff, over abuse of its doping code, signalling tough penalties against coach James Hird, who condoned a program where multiple players received multiple injections of potentially dangerous drugs.
Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority sanctions against a number of Essendon players will follow but there is no predetermined end date, the imminence of the AFL finals being irrelevant to the anti-doping body's investigation.
Eagles trounce hapless Bombers
Essendon continues to suffer, with a third consecutive defeat seeing West Coast outperform the Dons by 53 points on Sunday afternoon.PT1M12S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2rqt2 620 349 August 12, 2013
On Friday, ASADA told its stakeholders that the AFL will charge Essendon on Monday.
Because the AFL and ASADA have conducted a joint investigation since Essendon self-reported its concerns in early February, they can take advantage of each other's rights via their respective powers - the AFL's code of conduct and ASADA's legislative powers.
This effectively means any weaknesses in ASADA's legislation regarding penalties against ''support people'' can be covered by the AFL's catch-all clause - ''bringing the game into disrepute''.
Bombers fans show their support for James Hird during the round 20 game against West Coast on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
Under the World Anti-Doping Agency and ASADA code, it is not an offence for a coach to use drugs for his own personal use.
For ASADA to make a case against Hird, or club doctor Bruce Reid, or football manager Danny Corcoran, it would need to establish the support person was guilty of drug administration (injecting banned drugs to players himself), possession (supplying it to players from his own stock), or trafficking (dispensing known performance-enhancing drugs to players direct).
The recently released ASADA interim report on the Essendon investigation provides the AFL with enough evidence to charge the Bombers, as a club, and its officials, leading to bans, loss of draft choices and fines.
In so far as ASADA has not, at this point, established a doping
infraction, a penalty of loss of premiership points for cheating may be hard to sustain.
The 400-page document does not name one Essendon player, simply because ASADA legislation does not permit it to identify anyone until it issues an infraction.
The AFL Commission's response to the ASADA interim report is expected to reflect its concern at the duty of care over its most precious asset, its players.
While there is sympathy for players who complied with a doping regime condoned by Hird, they will not escape sanction because the WADA code demands an athlete be responsible for all substances ingested.
According to a source close to ASADA's investigation, ''there will be several footballers in both codes taken to their tribunals''.
Soft sanctions would be appealed by WADA, who must maintain consistency with punishments in other sports and countries, including the stripping of a gold medal won by a 16-year-old Bulgarian gymnast at the Sydney Olympics who tested positive to a banned substance given by her coach, despite her belief it was not prohibited.
ASADA is now pleased with the level of co-operation it is receiving from the NRL and Cronulla, with 31 players required for interviews.
Because sports scientist Stephen Dank was the architect of the supplements program at Cronulla in 2011 and Essendon in 2012, the then Sharks board made an early attempt to seek co-operation with the Bombers. So did the NRL, but both were ignored.
The doping programs at both clubs were significantly different: Essendon's almost military, with 30-40 injections per player, while Cronulla's was ad hoc, with four or five shots per player.
Essendon's program lasted well into the season, while Cronulla's was shut down after a couple of months when club doctor Dave Givney became concerned at the bruising of players. While the culpability of Essendon officials may be greater, some Sharks players face two-year bans because of the possibility they continued to take peptides off-site after Dank had been ordered out of the club.
Essendon players were injected under club supervision and have demonstrated a level of co-operation with ASADA from the outset of the investigation. However, a six-month suspension mainly served during the AFL off-season could be appealed by WADA because its policy requires loss of ''competition'' time.
WADA will use the AFL and NRL cases to toughen its sanctions against ''support'' staff. It will hold a world conference in Johannesburg in November, part of a six-year cycle of updating its code. The role of Essendon and Cronulla staff will be tabled to demonstrate the need for wider powers against those in a position of duty of care.