Players banned as Court rules Essendon doped
Thirty-four current and former Essendon Football Club players have been slapped with a two-year ban after being found to have taken a prohibited supplement, ending the long-running drugs saga that has blighted the Australian Football League and ended several high-profile careers.
In the final determination on the explosive issue, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has overturned the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal’s ruling that it was “not comfortably satisfied” the players had been administered the performance enhancing drug Thymosin Beta 4 during the 2012 season.
The ruling means that 12 currently listed Essendon FC footballers will not be able to play this year, including captain Jobe Watson, midfielders Dyson Heppel and Heath Hocking, and experienced defenders Michael Hurley, Heath Hocking and Tayte Pears. Several former players who have moved on to other clubs, including Jake Carlisle and Patrick Ryder, have also been suspended, as have retired stars including record games holder Dustin Fletcher, Angus Monfries and Mark McVeigh.
The scandal has already claimed the scalp of former coach James Hird, while the sports scientist who oversaw the supplements program, Stephen Dank, was last year handed a lifetime ban from all sports.
In most cases, the ban will apply through to 13 November this year, taking into account delays caused by factors outside player control and time served by those who accepted provisional suspension in 2013.
While the CAS heard the same evidence as had been presented to the AFL tribunal, it applied a different burden of proof – comfortable satisfaction.
In appealing the AFL tribunal’s decision, the World Anti-Doping Agency (supported by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority) did not have any test results to directly prove doping.
Instead, it used evidence gathered by ASADA, including text messages outlining a plan to dope the Essendon football team with Thymosin Beta 4, testimonies from players and officials, and a scientific analysis of substances sourced for the team.
ASADA said the evidence proved that the players had been injected with a prohibited substance “as part of a team program designed to give Essendon an unfair advantage in the 2012 season”.
ASADA Chief Executive Officer Ben McDevitt described the episode as “the most devastating self-inflicted injury by a sporting club in Australian history”.
Mr McDevitt hailed the Court’s decision and said there was no way the players could have escaped sanction.
“There were very little grounds for the players to claim they were at no significant fault,” Mr McDevitt said.
He said they had all received anti-doping training and “were well aware that they are personally responsible for all substances that entered their body”.
“Unfortunately, despite their education, they agreed to be injected with a number of substances they had little knowledge of, made no enquiries about the substance, and kept the injections from their team doctor and ASADA.”
The anti-doping boss said that in 30 dope tests conducted by ASADA during the period, none of the players divulged that they were receiving the injections despite being explicitly asked whether they had taken any supplements.
“At best, the players did not ask the questions, or the people, they should have,” Mr McDevitt said. “At worst, they were complicit in a culture of secrecy and concealment.”
Recently elected Essendon FC President, former Labor politician Lindsay Tanner, released a statement that the club was “currently digesting the decision”.
Photo: Neale Cousland / Shutterstock.com