The controversial fitness regime that helped ruin Essendon’s AFL season last year could now bring the club to its knees.
Ten days before Essendon’s first NAB Cup match, they announced a joint investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and the league’s integrity unit.
The investigation will look into unnamed supplements that the club gave to players.
ASADA’s involvement raises the worst-case scenario for the the club and the AFL that Essendon players took substances that are banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency code.
If that has happened, it will be one of the biggest crises in AFL history.
Essendon’s stunning revelation on Tuesday came after months of rumours surrounding supplement use by their players.
AFL commentator Gerard Healy has claimed that 12 months ago, the Bombers were inquiring at a Gold Coast sports medicine conference about the banned growth hormone GHRP6.
He added another club might be involved, but at this stage only Essendon are under investigation.
“There had been some officials from Essendon quietly asking about the substance known as GHRP6,” Healy said on 3AW.
“From what I’ve heard over the last 12 months and today, it could not look any worse for the Bombers and, sadly, possibly one other club.”
Essendon’s fitness program had already come under intense scrutiny last season when they suffered a shocking run of soft-tissue injuries and plummeted out of the top eight.
Sports scientist Stephen Dank has since left the club.
Former Essendon player Kyle Reimers has accused the club of pushing the boundaries with supplement use.
There are also explosive claims that last year the players were asked to sign a form that effectively made them responsible for their supplement use.
Reimers, who was delisted at the end of last season, told Channel Nine he had concerns about what the players were being asked to take.
“Speaking to blokes from other clubs, I don’t think anyone has ever thought about signing it or doing some of the stuff we were doing,” Reimers said.
“They gave a brief outline, but never really went into too much detail about it.
“They admitted to us it was right on the edge.”
Essendon will not comment on any specifics – who is involved, the supplements involved or the circumstances of the controversy.
They claimed on Tuesday they only became aware of the issue in the last two days.
“Over the last 48 hours, Essendon have received information about supplements that have been given to our players as part of the fitness program in 2012,” said club chairman David Evans.
Acting AFL football operations manager Gill McLachlan called the claims serious and concerning.
Evans and coach James Hird are confident that performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are not involved.
But the grim looks on the faces of Evans, Hird and Bombers chief executive Ian Robson as they fronted the media highlighted the seriousness of the investigation.
“We certainly don’t want to be sitting here, talking about this,” Hird said.
“We want to get this investigation started. We want to get it done. We want to come out with a clean bill of health.
“We want to move on with the footy season.”
Evans described the issue as a minefield, while Hird admitted the potential scandal had blindsided him.
“The supplements our players were given, in my opinion and my knowledge, were all approved and within the regulations we all play the game by,” Hird said.
“I’m very disappointed – shocked is probably the best word.
“I believe we followed processes, we put in place the right sort of processes.
“My understanding is we worked within the framework given to us by the AFL and WADA.
“I’m shocked to be sitting here.”
Evans and Hird said the club wanted a clean bill of health about the supplements that players had taken.