Having spent a fair whack of my summer in Australia and more specifically Perth, I got quite into ‘footy’ which to an Englishman is Aussie Rules. During my time the ‘Essendon scandal’ started to boil over I thought it would be interesting to visit the situation and see where the AFL (Australian Football League) stood with three or four months having passed. To give you a bit of background, Essendon who are from Melbourne have always been a reasonably consistent performer in the AFL with their best years undoubtedly occurring at the turn of the millennium. However, the 2013 season saw controversy. On the pitch the Bombers were in finals contention but off the field they became embroiled in an illegal supplements scandal which eventually saw them kicked out of the finals series and disgraced as a club. Below I hope to take a brief look at what the current situation is at the struggling Melbourne club.
The arguments between the Hird camp and the AFL over whether the investigation into the Essendon supplements scandal has been compromised, and whether the processes and tactics employed by the league and its chief executive were fair to the Essendon hierarchy are intriguing, but pale in comparison when you look at the reality of what happened at Essendon last year.
ASADA is close to completing its investigation into the NRL’s Cronulla Sharks with suspensions purportedly being announced in February next year. Furthermore, recent reports have also stated that ”ASADA now have enough evidence on Essendon to decide whether or not to press charges against the club.
Between Essendon and Cronulla, a common factor emerges, that of Stephen Dank – a former biochemist involved in the contentious supplements programs at each club. Dank has publicly maintained he won’t submit to ASADA’s new powers compelling him to be interviewed, but it is believed his stand may be softening. It should also be noted that Cronulla’s program lasted only two to three weeks and charges brought seem a formality. Essendon’s program ran from late 2011 through to August in 2012.
None of the wrangling between the Hird camp and the AFL changes the accepted scenario that several young, fit players were injected multiple times with a selection of questionable substances. ASADA’s damning interim report and Essendon’s internal report by Ziggy Switkowski – which many of Hird’s supporters seem to have forgotten – suggest the players Essendon players will struggle to escape penalty, despite the AFL’s confidence that they will.
The fall-out from player suspensions will be great. Essendon, once a great club, will be irrevocably tainted for the next season at least and more importantly devastate the club. One player agent has also claimed he has a group of players ready to take legal action against Essendon, and possibly Hird, should charges from ASADA be pressed. If such circumstances so occur for Hird’s deal with the club to return to a senior role late next year would surely become untenable – surely he couldn’t possibly return under such circumstances.
As such, the game the Hird camp are now playing is dangerous. If Essendon are paying Hird $1 million a season for essentially doing nothing, that’s their decision but the fact this has been allowed to go on is ridiculous and more embarrassing on the AFL’s part. And as a result of the lack of AFL intervention, Herd has grabbed this with both hands portraying an injustice he feels that has gone on and a belief he was forced into accepting a suspension that was completely unwarranted. Interesting.
This saga has already claimed the Bomber’s former chairman David Evans and chief executive Ian Robson, so it’s quite unbelievable that Hird hasn’t shown one bit of remorse for the supplements program that has rocked his club. This has hardly helped the Essendon board as they attempt to justify Hird’s return to a senior role as well as his two-year contract extension!
Interestingly, the Essendon saga saw a joint AFL-ASADA investigation for the first time and whilst much maligned AFL chief Andrew Demetriou has said the joint AFL-ASADA investigation would the first of many, it’s understood WADA will never endorse another joint investigation with a sport and no major sporting code would ever compromise itself by agreeing to a shared inquiry with ASADA. How both parties can be singing of such different hymn sheets is quite farcical.
In the meantime, the final word must go to those that will undoubtedly be affected by the whole situation and who are probably more frustrated than any fans – the players. Whilst this goes on in the background the players are still expected to concentrate on preparing for the 2014 campaign under coach Mark Thompson, a monumental task in itself given the circumstances!