Essendon verdict: AFL players banned in doping scandal

January 12, 2016

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has upheld a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appeal in the long-running ­investigation into Essendon’s 2012 drugs regimen.“The players’ lack of curiosity is fatal to the success of this particular plea,” the CAS judgment says. The decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to ban the Melbourne-based Essendon Football Club players for two years comes after years of appeals to varying anti-doping tribunals. In a statement, the CAS said it was satisfied the players had taken the banned substance and were significantly at fault, imposing mandatory two-year bans. CAS said most of the 34 players would be suspended until November 13 this year, depending on the back-dating that applies in each case.The court rejected an argument of “no significant fault, no significant negligence” which could have drastically reduced the sentences.The CAS verdict, delivered by a three-man panel headed by British barrister Michael Beloff, is likely the last step in the anti-doping process that started in February 2012 when Essendon announced its supplements program was being investigated by the AFL and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency. The bans are expected to have widespread ramifications on the Australian rules league and the club.WADA took its appeal to sport’s highest court after the AFL’s anti-doping tribunal last March stated it could not be “comfortably satisfied” that any of the players had violated anti-doping rules by using Thymosin Beta-4 under the club’s supplements program during the 2012 season.

Essendon skipper Jobe Watson
Essendon skipper Jobe Watson

WADA director general David Howman said the CAS decision upheld the standards of proof set out in the WADA code.“If the AFL tribunal’s decision had prevailed, it would have set a damaging precedent for future non-analytical anti-doping cases and, therefore, been detrimental for anti-doping efforts worldwide,” he said.Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) chief executive Ben McDevitt has been quoted by media saying that the players had been informed of the league’s anti-doping rules and should have been aware they were responsible for all substances that entered their body.“This unfortunate episode has chronicled the most devastating self-inflicted injury by a sporting club in Australian history,” McDevitt said in a statement. “Unfortunately, despite their education, the players 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.“At best, the players did not ask the questions, or the people, they should have. At worst, they were complicit in a culture of secrecy and concealment.” “To be blunt, the AFL tribunal simply got it wrong.” AFL boss Gill McLachlan is sympathetic for the banned Essendon players, saying he did not blame them for the saga that led to their anti-doping suspensions.McLachlan has a much kinder opinion of the 34 current and former players saying the strong group culture at football clubs meant players were not encouraged to ask too many questions.

Twelve current Bombers players, including skipper Jobe Watson and vice-captain Dyson Heppell, will miss the entire 2016 AFL season.The verdict means Watson could be stripped of his 2012 Brownlow Medal. Apparently, Watson was handed a longer suspension than teammates because he decided to play an International Rules match for Australia which will be given a chance to argue before a special AFL Commission meeting next month that he should be allowed to keep the award. AFL player agent Peter Jess said the verdict would trigger an avalanche of damages claims against Essendon and the AFL. The heartbreaking news was relayed to the 12 remaining Essendon players by an AFLPA staffer at the Novotel hotel in St Kilda.Five players from rival clubs have also been wiped out. The head of the AFL Players’ Association, Paul Marsh has attacked the WADA code, saying it caught people who are not cheats. “I don’t have a great deal of faith in the WADA regime and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency is a part of that,” said Marsh. “We are struggling to understand how the CAS decision can be so different to that of the AFL anti-doping tribunal.“If the players were administered with banned substances, they have been deceived. They are the victims, not the perpetrators. They deserve our sympathy, not our scorn.”The incident is Australia’s biggest ever doping scandal.The severity of the suspensions will shock the football world.For more you can read and download the full report here Arbitral-Award_WADA_ESSENDON.pdf

Contador Harrison