Sidelined Essendon coach James Hird says he was threatened and induced into accepting responsibility for the AFL club’s supplements program, and disagreed with the Bombers’ decision to self report.
Hird claims he was at odds with Essendon’s decision to request both the AFL and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigate the club over doping allegations.
He told the Federal Court he did not believe the club had done anything wrong, but agreed to toe the club line.
“I was asked by the Essendon Football Club not to shirk the issue,” Hird told the court on Monday.
“I was told it would be better for the club if we went along this path.”
Gillon McLachlan said to us it was his belief that the Essendon Football Club had taken performance enhancing drugs.
At a February 2013 press conference Hird said he took full responsibility for what had happened in Essendon’s football department in 2012.
The club and Hird signed deeds of settlement with the AFL in August 2013, which resulted in the club being fined, thrown out of the finals and Hird’s 12-month suspension.
Hird said he only signed the deed, which held him partly to blame, under duress.
“There were threats and inducements to get me to sign that deed,” he told the court.
Hird repeated his allegation that then AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou had tipped off the club about a pending ASADA investigation the day before Essendon went public at the press conference.
Demetriou denies pre-warning the club.
Hird said the AFL made it clear to Essendon it was in the club’s best interest to self report, with then AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan – now the CEO – making the case.
“Gillon McLachlan said to us it was his belief that the Essendon Football Club had taken performance enhancing drugs,” Hird said.
“I disagreed with what they said. I said `I don’t think that is true’.”
Hird and Essendon are claiming the investigation was unlawful and the resultant show cause notices, alleging doping by 34 players, should be thrown out.
But ASADA says its probe was legal, and to suggest otherwise would be “nonsense on stilts”.
Hird said he was told to participate in the investigation by the club’s then chairman David Evans and CEO Ian Robson.
“I was told by the club, by David Evans and Ian Robson, that we should co-operate with ASADA and with the AFL, because if we co-operated it would go well for our players.
“The players are the most important thing and I followed David Evans’ and Ian Robson’s lead.”
Essendon’s lawyer Neil Young QC said ASADA should not have given information to the league which was used to accuse the Bombers of bringing the game into disrepute.
He said the process was unlawful and could crush the club.
“The prejudice to the players will effectively rebound to the prejudice of the employer and effectively destroy the business,” Mr Young said.
But ASADA counsel Tom Howe QC said Essendon’s “seriously derelict” and “toxic” governance and management were a major part of the investigation.
“Possible governance and management issues were the very thing which prompted senior Essendon officials to approach ASADA,” he said.
Mr Howe said ASADA was not prohibited from conducting a joint investigation and if the court ruled against it, it would compromise the body’s stated aims.
“Indeed the expression ‘nonsense on stilts’ comes to mind,” Mr Howe said.
David Grace QC, on behalf of the players, said it would be a grave injustice if findings were made against his clients on the basis of the “unlawful” joint investigation.
Hird’s evidence will continue on Tuesday.