Essendon is free to start recruiting top-up players for this year’s NAB Challenge after the AFL commission signed off on a range of list concessions.
Desperate to preserve the anonymity of up to 18 players awaiting the outcome of the AFL’s anti-doping tribunal, the Bombers agreed to allow all 25 players who were at Essendon in 2012 to sit out the pre-season competition, throwing the club’s participation into question.
The anti-doping tribunal reconvened on Monday to hear final submissions from ASADA, the AFL and the players.
It is set to adjourn on or about February 18 to consider its decision as to whether Essendon’s supplements program breached the league’s anti-doping code.
Football manager Rob Kerr estimated the Bombers would need up to 20 top-up players in order to field a side in the NAB Challenge.
The temporary list concessions, overseen by league general counsel Andrew Dillon, allow the club to recruit up to two non-AFL-listed players from any state league club around the country as long as they have been on an AFL list in the past two seasons.
The Bombers are also free to use players from their stand-alone VFL affiliate side, but they do not need to have been on an AFL list before.
The measures will also apply if any of Essendon’s players receive suspensions from the tribunal that affect the home and away season.
There is no timeline for the tribunal to deliver its findings, but if it finds that there has been a breach of the league’s code it will convene another meeting to decide what sanctions are to be meted out.
“This is a reasonable and sensible package of concessions that recognises the unprecedented situation facing our competition, does not unfairly disadvantage other clubs, and allows Essendon to field a team,” Dillon said in statement released by the league on Monday night.
Any players recruited under the concessions will be offered temporary contracts with the AFL, set to continue to work with Essendon and the AFLPA to ensure appropriate terms and conditions including minimum payments and provisions for injury, insurance and medical.
The commission also ruled that any payments to a temporary player will be included in Essendon’s total player payments but the club will be provided with an allowance for those payments similar to the injury allowance currently in place.