He may be fighting to clear his name, but embattled NRL coach Shane Flanagan could possibly cop a much lengthier suspension than his provisional one-year ban, according to former ASADA boss Richard Ings.
Flanagan is believed to be considering his legal position and the Sharks say they may defend him after the NRL on Tuesday provisionally suspended him for 12 months for his alleged involvement in the Sharks’ 2011 supplements program.
The provisional view of the NRL is that Flanagan and former strength and conditioning coach Trent Elkin failed in their duty of care to players, putting the athletes at risk and exposing them to possible violations of the game’s anti-doping code.
But with ASADA’s own investigation into the Sharks ongoing, Ings suggested Flanagan may be set for an even more severe punishment if it deems that performance-enhancing drugs were in fact used.
“The best one to look at is (former Canberra winger) Sandor Earl,” Ings told AAP when asked on Wednesday if Flanagan potentially faced a lengthier ban of 12 months, which the league can reduce to nine months if he undergoes education and training.
“Sandor is facing a four-year ban for the use and trafficking of performance-enhancing drugs.
“If you’re an athlete who is trafficking performance-enhancing drugs, or you’re an athlete support person who has been administering performance-enhancing drugs, then the ban under the WADA code can be four years, or even greater, depending on the situation.”
Flanagan and the Sharks have until January 15 to appeal his suspension, as well as the proposed cancellation of Elkin’s NRL registration and the club’s provisional $1 million fine.
But even if any Flanagan appeal is successful, ASADA’s findings will be independent, meaning his future in the code remains in jeopardy.
“(NRL boss) David Smith made it very clear yesterday (that) the announcement of the sanctions proposed by the NRL were made after consulting with ASADA (and) that making those announcements would not cut across any aspect of ASADA’s current investigation,” Ings said.
“The NRL got the go-ahead for that so the sanctions that are imposed are under the NRL’s code of conduct. They’ve got nothing to do with any possible future anti-doping violations.
“They’re separate and they’re independent.
“Smith also made very clear that ASADA’s investigation is based around whether the substances were used were actually performance-enhancing drugs. ASADA must complete that investigation and when they do, ASADA will determine whether any player or athlete support staff, be it a coach or trainer or whoever, was in breach of any anti-doping rules.”
Flanagan and Elkin aren’t the only parties in the firing line, with several Sharks players also in for a nervous wait.
“If ASADA’s investigation goes on to say: ‘Those substances which were given we, ASADA, can now prove that they were performance-enhancing drugs’, then that would be a much more serious violation and would bring serious sanctions under the NRL’s anti-doping policy which would be separate to and above and beyond anything that’s already been handed down,” Ings said.
The Cronulla board will meet on Thursday night to consider their position.
The club on Wednesday closed ranks, with the players refusing to comment before or after training under assistant coach Peter Sharp in what was believed to be their final field session of the year.