The darkest day in AFL history has finally arrived for 34 past and present Essendon players subjected to illegal doping at the AFL club.
In a 48-page document released on Tuesday morning, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) outlined its reasons for suspending the ‘Essendon 34’ for the 2016 season, leaving one of the league’s powerhouse clubs on its knees.
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• Court of Arbitration releases statement
Of the 34, 12 remain at Essendon – meaning the team’s season is over before it begins, and the careers of senior players Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton are, more than likely, over too.
Watson may be faced with the ultimate kick in the guts: having to hand back his 2012 Brownlow Medal – the sport’s highest individual honour – with the AFL Commission meeting in February to decide whether he won it by unfair means.
The bans also severely dent the premiership aspirations of Port Adelaide, ruling out Angus Monfries and Patrick Ryder for 2016, and the Western Bulldogs, with Stewart Crameri suspended as well.
Melbourne (Jake Melksham) and St Kilda (Jake Carlisle) will also be adversely affected.
An AFL Players’ Association spokesperson said on Tuesday that players affected by the decision were heartbroken, with some “in tears”.
Essendon chairman Lindsay Tanner branded the decision “manifestly unfair”.
Former coach James Hird labelled it a “miscarriage of justice“.
AFL Players’ Association chief Paul Marsh said the players were “the victims, not the perpetrators”, and laid the blame at Essendon’s door.
Lawyers at the ready
It is this assertion that could pave the way for a raft of lawsuits against the Bombers and, potentially, the AFL.
Marsh described this prospect as “very likely”.
Although the club could be hit with lawsuits totalling up to $40 million according to some estimates, Tanner said insurance could help limit some of the damage.
What will be impossible to mitigate is the hit to the club’s playing stocks.
Losing any one of A-graders like Watson, Dyson Heppell, Michael Hurley or Cale Hooker would severely damage the club.
Losing them all at once is catastrophic.
In the short term, Essendon will be granted provisions to top-up their list with players from their rookie list, as well as state leagues – in a similar fashion to that in which they fielded a team during the 2015 pre-season.
Players at fault
The suspensions brought into stark focus WADA and ASADA’s view that the players were culpable in not speaking up about the injections regime running in 2012.
ASADA CEO Ben McDevitt said the view the players were not significantly at fault was naive.
“The players had received anti-doping education through the AFL and ASADA, and were all aware that they are personally responsible for all substances that entered their body,” McDevitt said.
“Unfortunately, despite their education, they agreed to be injected with a number of substances they had little knowledge of, made no inquiries about the substance and kept the injections from their team doctor and ASADA.
“Of 30 ASADA testing missions during the period in question, none of the 18 players tested declared the injections, despite being asked each time whether they had taken any supplements.
“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.”
The CAS report on the appeal echoed these sentiments.
“No player asked the club doctor – the obvious first port of call – for advice about Thymosin, although all signed a consent form for its administration,” the CAS ruling read.
“Given that it is the primary responsibility of a player to ensure that he does not make use of a prohibited substance, the players’ lack of curiosity is fatal to the success of this particular plea.”
AFL chief Gillon McLachlan detailed the concessions granted to the Bombers in order to field a “competitive” side, but they must surely be resigned to a year on the bottom of the AFL ladder.
“Essendon may upgrade all of its five rookie-listed players to the senior list as a one-for-one replacement, as though the suspended players they are replacing had long-term injuries,” McLachlan said.
“Essendon will be granted the ability to sign up to 10 extra players to its list by powers granted by the Commission to our general counsel Andrew Dillon.”
“In summary, it is the AFL’s view that Essendon must be able to field a competitive team, to provide a safe working environment for both their own players and opposition players.”