Integrity and transparency are often buzzwords haphazardly thrown around in AFL circles but they are about to become all too real as ASADA’s investigation into Essendon’s controversial drugs program enters a bold new stage.
The bombshell landed in Melbourne even before daybreak on Tuesday with the news that WADA would be appealing the AFL anti-doping verdict handed down in late March.
“After a thorough examination of the evidence contained within the file, WADA has decided to lodge its independent right of appeal to the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)”, WADA director general David Howman said.
“As with all pending cases, and adhering to the proper and normal respect for the integrity of the legal process, WADA will refrain from commenting further on the subject until a decision has been made by CAS.”
So that was that. The AFL’s attempt at trying to micro-manage the saga which had dogged football for three years was finally going to be able to be tested independently of the league.
As it could have been predicted, the cries of ‘another season ruined’ rang out across radio and print in the ensuing hours on Tuesday.
In spite of it being WADA’s legal right to appeal, what it does allow for now is for transparency and clarity, something that has been painfully remiss in the dissection of the situation at hand.
Rather that wish it away, it should provide a concrete decision free of agenda and deal making which has unfortunately been at the forefront of football’s darkest hour.
It is now at a point where we are so far into the investigation that it has reached the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The saga is now bigger than the team, league, code and even sport in Australia.
If it takes days, months and even years longer to get to the bottom of what happened at Windy Hill in 2012, we are finally about to find out the truth. Football media should still be able to have a rational discussion about the impeding CAS decision while analysing St Kilda and GWS’ stirring wins over the weekend.
The new, independent world that this investigation is now in could not have been better summed up than on Tuesday night when CAS released a statement complete with the 34 Essendon players’ names incorrectly at the centre of the release.
“WADA requests that the CAS issue a new decision based on an appropriate burden of proof and evidentiary standards,” the deleted statement said.
While the individual players names being published explicitly breached clause 14.2.3 the WADA code, what it did do is make an important distinction between club and player.
The impeding WADA appeal should focus on the 34 players, rather than the entire club. It had inadvertently cleared some players, something that would have never happened in the ASADA-AFL joint investigation.
With a decision not expected until at least Christmas of 2015, it allows a number of parties to have their side of the story tested before an independent court.
ASADA boss Ben McDevitt, whose disgust at the anti-doping tribunal findings was echoed by many across the country now has an opportunity to gather new evidence.
While witnesses are still not compelled to talk, there is now added time to collate extra documents at the centre of Essendon’s “pharmacological experiment” in 2012.
It is also an opportunity for James Hird to test his now infamous statement of February 2013, where he said that “when the truth comes out, I think I’ll be in a very, very good position and so will this football club”.
And as for the players, an independent court allows them and indeed the wider football world to find out whether they are guilty or not guilty once and for all.
Even while being found not guilty in March, the full report revealed the extent of the dangerous environment they were subjected to in 2012.
While football will go on as a backdrop to this continuing saga, the truth may finally be coming out free of any bias that had preceded it.
All parties will be held accountable at an overseas court that isn’t overseen by any head body, nor being scrutinised by an anti-doping agency.
Uncharted territory for the AFL it may be, but football wins in the long-term as a result of WADA’s decision to appeal.
At the heart of it, we are finally getting to the bottom of what actually occurred at Essendon in 2012 and whether performance-enhancing drugs were given to Essendon players.
It may inconvenience the game in the short term but football integrity must never be taken lightly.
The news of an appeal is a good one for the transparency of the game and should be celebrated as such, despite the ramifications that may lie in the coming months.
After all, if we don’t have accountability and integrity in football, what do we have?