Essendon CAS verdict: Players want new anti-doping code, says AFLPA boss Paul Marsh

Paul Marsh
Emotional: AFLPA CEO, Paul Marsh. Photo: Getty Images

Disgusted and shocked by the decision against the "Essendon 34", players' association boss Paul Marsh says the AFL must now seriously consider separating itself from the World Anti-Doping Agency code.

An emotional Marsh described Tuesday's decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport as "the most disgraceful thing I've seen" in 20 years working in sport, and signalled the hefty bans would hasten the push to create a new "fit-for-purpose" anti-doping code for the game.

Marsh was in the room on Tuesday when the AFL Players Association legal team told the players an entire season of their careers would be wiped out, and revealed there was silence and in some cases tears immediately after, as the gravity of the verdict sunk in.   

Marsh was also fighting back tears as he fronted the media on the players' behalf – calling the latest and most dramatic twist in the supplements saga the "final nail in the coffin".

But he gathered himself and knew the significance of his words when he admitted he "did not have a great deal of faith in the WADA regime", and he had concerns about the "politics" around it.

"I'm sure I will be criticised for saying that, but I don't really care," Marsh said. "I think it's something we've got to take a really good, hard look at because there is just too much injustice.


"I don't think the WADA code is necessarily catching genuine cheats. I think it's catching people who are not cheats.

"As difficult as it would be to walk away from it, it's something we seriously want to look at."

Among the difficulties the AFL would face by becoming "WADA-free" is the risk of losing government funding, which clubs have benefited from in areas such as ground improvements and community and Indigenous programs.

Beyond that, such a move could create a perception that the league is not as committed to clean sport as others.

The AFL stressed on Tuesday it was as committed as any sport to stamping out drug cheating.

But chairman Mike Fitzpatrick also said the CAS decision "invites a discussion" about how the code applied to teams sports, and the league would "accept that invitation".

WADA director-general David Howman has repeatedly rejected the argument that the WADA code is better suited to navigating anti-doping issues for individual athletes than for team sports.

Asked what might act as an alternative anti-doping code in place of WADA's, Marsh was reluctant to go into detail. But, speaking generally, he said the AFLPA believed the best codes around the world were those "collectively bargained between the athletes and the sports".

"There are lots of examples of that," he said. "The American sports have stayed out of WADA and, in many respects, they have got their houses in order. So it is certainly something that can happen, finding a fit-for-purpose anti-doping code."

Marsh would not say how early the AFLPA would want a new drugs policy in place, but said a prompt review of the existing code was now a "huge priority".

Player Expiry of ineligibility Current status/club
Thomas Bellchambers 13 November 2016 Essendon
Alex Browne 13 November 2016 Delisted last year
Jake Carlisle 13 November 2016 St Kilda
Travis Colyer 13 November 2016 Essendon
Stewart Crameri 13 November 2016 Western Bulldogs
Alwyn Davey 15 February 2017 Delisted in 2013
Luke Davis 13 November 2016 Aberfeldie
Cory Dell'Olio 14 November 2016 Delisted in 2014
Ricky Dyson 13 November 2016 Retired in 2012
Dustin Fletcher 21 November 2016 Retired last year
Scott Gumbleton 13 November 2016 Retired in 2014
Kyle Hardingham 13 November 2016 Delisted in 2014
Dyson Heppell 13 November 2016 Essendon
Michael Hibberd 13 November 2016 Essendon
David Hille 13 November 2016 Retired in 2013
Heath Hocking 13 November 2016 Essendon
Cale Hooker 13 November 2016 Essendon
Ben Howlett 13 November 2016 Essendon
Michael Hurley 13 November 2016 Essendon
Leroy Jetta 15 February 2017 Retired in 2014
Brendan Lee 13 November 2016 Delisted in 2012
Sam Lonergan 13 November 2016 Appointed coach of Launceston
Nathan Lovett-Murray 15 December 2016 Delisted in 2013
Mark McVeigh 13 November 2016 GWS assistant coach
Jake Melksham 13 November 2016 Melbourne
Angus Monfries 13 November 2016 Port Adelaide
David Myers 13 November 2016 Essendon
Tayte Pears 13 November 2016 Essendon
Brent Prismall 13 November 2016 Delisted in 2012
Patrick Ryder 13 November 2016 Port Adelaide
Henry Slattery 13 November 2016 Left Essendon in 2012
Brett Stanton 13 November 2016 Essendon
Ariel Steinberg 13 November 2016 Delisted last year
Jobe Watson 21 November 2016 Essendon