Leading sports lawyer Paul Horvath senses the significance of the consent forms signed by Essendon footballers last year has been overplayed in the supplement saga that is engulfing the AFL.
In one of the most startling allegations made after the joint Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and AFL investigation was triggered on Tuesday, it was suggested Essendon players signed waiver forms regarding supplements they were provided with and advised to take.
It’s been reported the documents would absolve the club officials of responsibility for the supplements taken as part of the Bombers’ fitness program.
Retired Essendon star Mark McVeigh then cast doubt on the Kyle Reimers’ revelations, saying they were consent forms for off-site injecting rooms, not waivers concerning indemnity.
Horvath on Wednesday noted a need for calm, saying “until we know for sure what substance was consumed, and what the documentation says – I think it’s a lot of speculation and perhaps some are being somewhat alarmist.
“The significance of the document is probably not what it has been made out to be,” Sports Lawyer principal Horvath told AAP.
“But having said that, if indeed it was a waiver that was signed … players might have some form of basis to challenge the validity and consent given by them, in those circumstances.
“Because obviously when you enter a contract, which a waiver effectively is, you have to sign under your own free will.
“… If your employer is telling you everything’s fine (that the substances have been approved by ASADA), then you’d ask yourself why am I signing such a document?
“That’s why I question what is the nature of the document. But before we can properly comment on it, we need clarity.”
However, if ASADA discovered and proved that illicit substances had been used by Essendon’s players, the club’s endorsement of the supplements would not be a sufficient defence for players looking to avoid potential bans.
“The first thing you read in the WADA code is that it is each athlete’s individual responsibility as to anything that they ingest,” said Horvath, chair of the Law Institute of Victoria’s Sports Law Committee who was also recently enlisted by Athletics Australia to investigate claims of racial vilification made by John Steffensen.
“You’ve got to show exceptional circumstances to get any reduction in penalty at all.”