As the Essendon investigation into illegal practices enters its sixth month, the thirst for an outcome based on ASADA’s findings has reached a fever pitch. This intensified on Tuesday Night when well-respected ABC journalist and AFL 360 co-presenter, Gerard Whateley, revealed that Essendon players would most likely escape any form of ban for taking AOD-9604 in 2012.
Whateley stated that, while AOD-9604 has been banned since January 11, 2011 under the S0 clause in the WADA code, this information had not been effectively communicated to ASADA, who believed that the said substance “was not prohibited”.
“Essendon players, in my opinion, will not receive infraction notices. If you are getting advice from the body you are told to report to that it is not prohibited, then I don’t believe, as the chief investigator stated, that such a charge could be sustained.” stated Whateley on AFL 360.
This presumption was confirmed by the Australian Crime Commision. In their extensive report, handed down only days after the scandal broke, it was stated that AOD-9604 wasn’t banned under S2, the clause for all performance enhancing drugs. This information was sourced from ASADA, who believed that the drug in question wasn’t prohibited for players.
The statement also confirmed that WADA has banned AOD-9604 under S0, and that information had not been passed down to its Australia representative.
As a result of this critical communication breakdown, Whateley was told by a lead ASADA investigator that the chances of Essendon players being banned for a minimum of six months was “very, very low”.
These new revelations promoted a large section of Essendon fans to take to social media and fan forums to herald this apparent “victory” against those who had written things to the contrary. The notion that resonated online, that Essendon was in the clear, is highly unlikely.
AOD-9604 may not have been banned in 2012, according to ASADA, but there is concrete evidence to suggest that this wasn’t the only drug being administered at the club in 2012.
A report by leading investigative journalists Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker in late April stated the invoices for Hexarelin, a banned performance-enhancing drug, had been found at the club. It later emerged that Thymosin Beta 4, another banned drug, had been used at the club last year.
It would be simply illogical to assume that, as a result of AOD-9604 not being prohibited, the Bombers as a club remain in the clear. There is still insurmountable evidence to suggest that other drugs at the club were banned, and the results of the ASADA investigation should confirm that.
In early May, Ziggy Switkowski handed down his report into the “irregular practises” that went on at Essendon. In his words, Essendon in 2012 was a “pharmacologically experimental environment; never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the club.”
Switkowski also detailed the nature of the supplement program, stating that “the supplement plan, if one existed, evolved and probably never reached a coherent, consistent shape.”
To add to these disturbing claims, the practices that went on at Essendon last year were found out to be akin to having “a playing generation of guinea pigs.”
The fact that key senior officials allowed Stephen Dank to operate a program that risked the well-being of the players is something that should concern and deeply anger Essendon fans, and football supporters as a whole.
In stark contrast, some Essendon fans seemed overjoyed that the players would get off, but failed to recognise that player sanctions only make up one part of the investigation.
In the recent salary cap saga at Adelaide and the alleged tanking investigation at Melbourne, the AFL came down hard on both clubs as a result of “bring the game into disrepute”.
While ASADA may clear the Bombers, there is little doubt that the head body will hand down extensive sanctions which may include a large fine, the stripping of draft picks and the loss of premiership points.
The future employment of officials who allowed these programs to be undertaken at a football club will also be highly scrutinised. The future of the coaches and fitness staff must surely come into question as to how such irresponsible governance was allowed to occur in 2012.
To compound the issues that the Bombers face, The Age journalist Caroline Wilson revealed on Wednesday that head coach James Hird was warned by the AFL in late 2011 to not involve his players in a peptide program.
According to Wilson, while Mark Thompson was against the controversial and risky program, James Hird was well aware of what he was getting itself into. The simple matter is, as a head coach, he should put the heath and well-being of his players above all else and, in this instance, he failed to do that.
There is no doubt that it comes as a relief to fans that Essendon players are highly unlikely to face suspensions as they are the victims in this case. Players were unaware of what was going on, and the faith that they put in officials was severely breached. It is the officials in this seemingly never-ending saga that will bare the brunt of the AFL’s sanctions. While it is no doubt good news that the players will be spared, there is still plenty more of this investigation to play out before we can categorically say it has concluded.