Papers have been lodged in the Supreme Court of Victoria alleging multiple acts of misleading or deceptive conduct by the AFL during the long-running supplements saga.
The action was brought by Melbourne lawyer Jackson Taylor and also names AFL chairman Michael Fitzpatrick and chief executive Gillon McLachlan as defendants.
The Statement of Claim includes allegations that the AFL misled and deceived the public over both the integrity of the joint investigation, conducted by the AFL and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), and the AFL’s responsibilities for player health and safety.
In the two-and-a-half years since the “blackest day” in Australian sport alleged widespread use of performance enhancing drugs, it is the Essendon AFL club that the spotlight has centred on.
The 34 past and present Essendon players caught up in the investigation were all cleared by the AFL’s anti-doping tribunal earlier this year, only to have their relief replaced by shock when they learned the World Anti-Doping Agency was appealing against the findings.
That appeal will be held by the international Court of Arbitration for Sport in November.
While the AFL has endeavoured to end the saga as quickly as possible the story continues to detract from the national competition.
Only two weeks ago, Essendon’s coach James Hird agreed to leave the club in order to allow the team and the club to “move on” from Australia’s biggest sporting controversy.
The sports scientist at the centre of the controversial supplements program at Essendon, Stephen Dank, is appealing against his lifetime ban from sport imposed by the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal and is also yet to face the Court of Arbitration for Sport as part of the WADA appeal.
Wednesday’s action likely means a third season of AFL football is going to be overshadowed as the drama takes yet another turn.
Late 2014, Mr Taylor urged Essendon members to push for an extraordinary general meeting and called for a retired judge or QC to review the club’s handling of the saga.
At the time he told The Australian: “The club cannot go on like this … we are urging members to bring on the EGM so we can put the club on the stable footing it needs for the future.”
Now Mr Taylor’s attention has turned to the sport’s governing body.
“Companies that act with the values and integrity the AFL claimed that it had, do so at an economic cost,” he said.
“Those companies, the public and other stakeholders, are entitled to the protection of the law from companies who claim to act in ways they do not.”
Comments ‘misleading, deceptive’
Mr Taylor’s statement of claim runs to 32 pages and also names former CEO Andrew Demetriou alongside McLachlan and Fitzpatrick, alleging comments made in numerous media interviews and in the AFL’s annual report were misleading or deceptive.
Mr Taylor suggested constant comments that Essendon ‘self reported’ were incorrect, and that rather the club requested an investigation “only after, and as a consequence of having received the Demetriou disclosures and the McLachlan disclosures and having been required by the AFL to request the AFL-ASADA investigation”.
It is an exercise in ‘he said, she said’ and Mr Taylor is aware his reputation is at stake in launching such proceedings against one of this country’s most powerful sporting organisations.
A separate allegation is tantamount to accusations of fraud.
Mr Taylor claimed the AFL continued to offer for sale to the public AFL Silver Memberships which entitled purchasers to preferential rights to secure tickets to matches in the final series – which Essendon was on target to play in.
However, Mr Taylor claimed that in June of 2013 the AFL had already determined to exclude Essendon from the finals or at least have points removed in order for them not to qualify, but continued to sell Silver Memberships including to Essendon supporters.
The announcement that Essendon was to be stripped of points and miss the final series was not made until August 2013.
Withholding such information is alleged to be in breach of Australian consumer law.