ASADA, Essendon and Thymosin
Senior sports writer Jake Niall explains the latest developments in the ongoing Essendon supplements saga.PT0M0S 620 349
Ben McDevitt broke his silence on Friday and pointedly stated that the eyes of the World Anti-Doping Agency were on Australia and just how seriously it regarded its responsibility towards the international fight against performance-enhancing drugs.
We could state with some clarity that this is what WADA sees.
Primarily, it sees a football club, Essendon, still determined to lawyer up and drag itself and its code through a lengthy court battle despite its own internal device inquiry that concluded it ran a pharmaceutical program never adequately controlled or checked.
Second, it sees a senior coach, charged with the responsibility towards its players, who employed people who regularly injected them with allegedly banned drugs. Drugs which on Thursday led to 34 of them receiving show-cause letters. A coach who is being paid to take a gap year and had his contract extended by two years. A coach who continues to blame others and a club that still cannot see that it must cut him loose.
WADA also sees two other Essendon assistant coaches, Mark Thompson and Simon Goodwin, who failed to prevent the program and knew all about it, both promoted and given pay rises. Thompson raised the alarm but ultimately the program continued. It sees the then chief executive of the club, Ian Robson, who either knew or failed to know, shifted from Australian football to soccer and to one of that code’s biggest clubs.
And, perhaps most shamefully, it sees the experienced club doctor who was so concerned about the drugs program he wrote a heartfelt letter to the coach and the football boss complaining about it. And then continued to work at the club without further official complaint as the program intensified. A doctor who went unpunished and still runs the medical program at the club.
Now that the authorities have finally acted on 34 past and present Essendon players, the club appears still to be channelling its anger towards ASADA and its new boss McDevitt, who took the unusual step early on Friday of outlining possible details of a proposed deal with players that could see their sentences reduced to six months. This shows how delusional the Bombers remain and exposes once again the insane and irrelevant folly of last year’s James Hird-led anti-Demetriou campaign.
McDevitt also made it clear on Friday that should ASADA’s case be proven, there was no escaping suspension. Say what you like about his public commentary, but he clearly believes he has a case. The criticism levelled at the process-driven ASADA - or at times apparent lack of process - is no longer the issue. The only comfort for the players in Paul Little's decision to challenge the AFL-ASADA joint investigation is that their lawyers do not believe it will prejudice their own fight to minimise the damage.
It is true the Essendon players have already been subjected to a cruel form of emotional agony as they have played the waiting game. But the authorities led by retired Federal Court judge Garry Downes and now rolled out by McDevitt have not been taken without clear and strong reason. McDevitt has pointed to a strong circumstantial case against the players.
Having re-interviewed compounding chemist Nima Alavi and Shane Charter, who supplied Essendon with drugs, ASADA appears convinced it has a case against the players strong enough to lead to infraction notices. But McDevitt has also made it clear that players who have co-operated and unknowingly taken banned drugs could receive reduced sentences.
Surely the club should have ignored at this late stage the ill-judged advice - from Hird among others - to fight ASADA through the courts. Surely if the penalties come and can be reduced to six months, the players should take them and return at some stage next season. How much more bad advice can this club take given it now faces the clear threat of legal action from the players it failed?
If only that course of action had been pursued after the release of the Ziggy Switkowski report so much long-term damage could have been avoided or at least mitigated. Dragging this sorry and shameful case through the courts now will not help anyone and will do so much more damage to the game.
If there has been one recurring theme through this whole shocking mess, it has been the misguided, inflated egos and their ill-judged determination to cling to long-standing old boy friendships. The bad advice that has guided the selfish and culpable James Hird has not only punctuated this saga but symbolised it.
ASADA, in its determination to deal not with the AFL nor Essendon but only the players, may have gone some way to emphasising a divide that is now between those footballers and the men in power who let them down. The players may be disgusted with the procedures of the anti-doping authorities but there are growing signs they are becoming equally disgusted with their club.
Hird has failed at every opportunity to do the right thing and in doing so has gone a long way to ruining his reputation and his career.
He could still stand up and publicly and unreservedly apologise for his lack of diligence in first establishing and then failing to oversee the drugs program that led to this. He could take the blame, as he should, and this could help the cause of the footballers whose welfare he was entrusted with. He could finally put players and club first.
So could Bruce Reid, the club doctor who knew what was happening was wrong and failed to prevent it. How crazy that he was never punished at all, this trusted veteran who clung like Hird to his reputation and whose blind adoration of Hird overrode his responsibility to the players.
The misguided spin coming from Essendon is that the AFL and its key leaders led by Andrew Demetriou were the guilty party. That they were hiding something and had potentially broken the law. This remains as unlikely as it always was irrelevant.
The truth of the AFL’s failings is that it allowed Hird to be paid and sent away on a gap year and tried to do a deal with him. And worse, that when it needed to act on the irresponsible club doctor it lacked the energy and resolve to do so, feeling that Reid’s 40 years of the service to the game should save him.