New ASADA chief: Ben McDevitt.

ASADA chief Ben McDevitt. Photo: AAP

The 16-month drugs probe into Australian sport has climaxed with issuing of a slew of show-cause notices for players by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.

Players from the AFL club, the Essendon Bombers have notification from ASADA that outlined alleged anti-doping rule breaches. Fairfax Media has established that Sharks players in the NRL will not receive letters until next week at the earliest.

ASADA’s CEO, Ben McDevitt, has confirmed the issuing of 34 show cause notices to past and present Essendon players charged with breaching drug rules. ASADA released a statement on Friday morning regarding the move to issue notices “based on a considerable body of evidence” collected over the past 16 months about Essendon’s 2012 supplements program.

“Based on the advice of our legal counsel and a review of the evidence by the Hon. Garry Downes, I have reached the conclusion that these players have a case to answer under the World Anti-Doping Code,” McDevitt said in the written statement.

“When I have reached a conclusion that a possible violation has occurred, it is incumbent on me under legislation to put formal allegations to athletes and invite them to respond.”

Fairfax Media has established that the use of prohibited peptide thymosin Beta 4 is queried in the show cause notices. It remains unclear whether show cause notices have simultaneously been issued to Essendon officials involved in the doping probe, but that is anticipated.

McDevitt outlined in the statement released on Friday how: “Following the conclusion of joint interviews with the AFL in mid-2013, ASADA continued to accumulate evidence to establish a possible violation.”

NRL officials are also bracing for the 18-month saga to be finally brought to a head, with speculation rife in recent days that 17 members of Cronulla's 2011 squad were set to receive show-cause notices. Fairfax Media has been told players from another club may also be sent the show-cause notices from ASADA. Lawyers for the players say they have not received any correspondence from ASADA but were aware of the speculation swirling around in league circles.

Fairfax Media reported last month that five current and 12 former Sharks were due to receive show cause notices, along with the members of Essendon's 2012 roster.

The issuing of show-cause notices does not in itself mean the NRL and AFL players will be suspended. It is a preliminary step towards taking action against athletes alleged to have violated doping rules. Players are then given the chance to argue why they should not be charged with an offence.

The final step before show cause notices could be sent was the personal authorisation of each individual notice by McDevitt, who told a Senate Estimates hearing last week the case involving AFL and NRL clubs would come to a head in a matter of "weeks" rather than "months".

The Essendon footballers, who are being represented en masse by solicitor Tony Hargreaves and two members of the AFL Players' Association's legal counsel, will have 10 days to respond before briefs of evidence are passed from ASADA to the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel – the federal government appointed group of experts that must review all significant anti-doping proceedings. Neither Essendon or the AFL are willing to comment at this stage, but Tim Watson, former Essendon great and father of current skipper Jobe, told Channel Seven that players were in "shock".

"The players, having received show cause notices, are in shock," he said. Watson also indicated that legal action would be taken by the club. "There is probably going to be some legal action launched by the Essendon Football Club . . . what happens beyond that is anyone's guess," he said.

Watson said he had "no idea" how the players were going to put the notices behind them and play this weekend.

In August last year, the AFL heavily penalised Essendon, kicking the club out of the finals and suspending coach James Hird for 12 months among other punishments.

Earlier on Thursday, Essendon chairman Paul Little addressed the ASADA issue in a letter to members. "Unfortunately there has not been any significant developments or relevant information made available to the club in recent weeks," he said. "Our players are still carrying the heavy burden of continued speculation in the media with no concrete timetable for the ASADA process to conclude – this has been incredibly frustrating for us all. We are exploring all legal options for our players in the unlikely event they receive show cause letters from ASADA."

It is believed Essendon players were sent text messages by ASADA asking them to contact the anti-doping body to let them know whether they preferred the notices be sent via email or post, and asking them to confirm their postal addresses.

The NRL put out a statement late on Thursday, which read, "Our confidentiality obligations preclude us from  making any comment in relation to ASADA's on-going investigations."

"The NRL is only in a position to comment on a case after it has issued an infraction notice."

with AAP