The ongoing investigations by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) into the Essendon drug scandal continue to damage the credibility of the AFL. With four senior officials being charged in recent weeks, there appears to be none of the desperately needed resolution in sight for either the club or its fans.
One of the latest developments is that health concerns are being raised by players with regards to the supplements allegedly taken. ASADA are saying they are unable to determine exactly what substances were being taken, which means there could be unknown health risks for players associated with the scandal. Essendon is now receiving a backlash of concern from players and their families. Many are expressing concerns about fertility and potential child defects for partners who are pregnant or have given birth within the last couple of years. Apparently several players are also seeking independent medical advice in regards to this issue.
Four Essendon officials were recently charged by the AFL for “bringing the game into disrepute”. They are coach James Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, club doctor of thirty-one years Bruce Reid and Football Manager Danny Corcoran. The AFL commission hearing to look at the charges against Essendon will be held on the 26th of August next week.
There is hope that the commission will bring about some form of resolution to the saga, but it largely depends on how far Essendon are willing to go in the courts. Hird has hired well-known QC (Queens Council), Julian Burnside, to defend him and there are rumors that if Essendon is charged the case will be taken all the way to the Victorian Supreme Court. While the club may not win the case, they would at least succeed in buying a bit more time in the run up to the September finals series.
After the announcement by the AFL of the charges, Essendon Chairman Paul Little said that the “charges will be vigorously defended”. Hird has been saying all along that he “did nothing wrong” and that he was “shocked” in response to the charges. Hird and others charged will continue to fight for their own reputation and Essendon’s as this saga continues.
As yet there have been no charges or sanctions leveled directly at players. Some would speculate though that this is only a matter of time.
If Essendon has broken the AFL’s code of conduct, not to mention ASADA’s strict drug code, one must ask why has it taken this long for any action? If the four officials charged really have “brought the game into disrepute” then why hasn’t something been done about it before now?
According to major news outlets, AFL Chief Andrew Demetriou’s involvement with Essendon in relation to the supplement saga is being questioned. There have reportedly been calls from James Hird’s legal team for him to be removed from the commission due to a conflict of interest. They have decided to submit a formal complaint if Demetriou persists in hearing the case. There have been claims Demetriou tipped off Essendon about the contents of an Australian Crime commission report, which resulted in Essendon self reporting to ASADA. He is denying these claims and said he will be hearing the case “unless he hears otherwise”.
Perhaps one of the greatest concerns for the club is if the AFL chooses to fine or sanction the club in the run up to the September finals. If Essendon and its charged officials are found guilty, the consequences will likely be serious. The result could include loss of premiership points, bans, fines and the loss of draft picks. If individual players and support staff are found guilty, they may face a period of suspension.
There are several problems for the AFL if they choose to take this course of action. If the AFL prevents Essendon from playing finals, as a team with one of the greatest supporter bases, the AFL and the club will lose considerable amounts of money in finals tickets, merchandising and other areas. Secondly, if Essendon is barred from playing finals it will mean that the draw for other clubs is drastically changed. A new spot in the finals will open up and another team will have to compete in Essendon’s place. This would result in a completely changed-up finals series.
The Essendon players themselves have on the field clearly been suffering from all the off-field drama, with losses in four out of their five last games by margins of over fifty points. They are currently sitting at seventh on the ladder, just able to maintain their hold on a position in the top eight.
According to the rules of the World Anti Doping Authority (WADA), a player is responsible for all substances that they ingest and therefore must pay the price. In the case of the Essendon Football Club, however, it remains to be seen how authorities such as the AFL and ASADA will proceed in dealing with the problems presented.
There are reportedly a handful of Essendon players who refused to take part, but it appears the majority partook in the supplement program. They therefore will have to face any consequences deemed appropriate by the AFL and other anti- drug associations.