Bombers and Sharks: what do they have in common?
Essendon face scrutiny over controversial fitness programs during the 2012 season (AFL media/Slattery Images).
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As the calamitous events around Cronulla unfold, the inevitable comparison with Essendon has begun. The obvious common factor is sports scientist Stephen Dank.
Dank worked at Cronulla for three months in 2011 and for nine months at Essendon in 2012.
Dank is alleged to have stepped over the WADA line with both clubs with his use of supplements, drugs and intravenous injections.
A clutch of NRL clubs are also under suspicion as they engaged Dank at some point. That is quite a trail of potential destruction to reputations due to one man.
However, it does not necessarily follow that what has occurred at Cronulla will be replicated at Essendon in terms of potential ASADA breaches and subsequent sanctions.
Nor is it the case that the likely fallout and management action by the two clubs will follow the same course.
For starters, the investigation into the two clubs is quite different.
In the Australian Crime Commission’s report into Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport it makes mention of a club being under suspicion for systemic banned supplement use.
Most media commentators now assume this was a reference to Cronulla as they appear to be at the pointy end of the ASADA investigation, compared to Essendon whose investigation has only been running for a month or so.
At the time the report was published most assumed page 17 of the report must have referred to Essendon as it was the only club identified.
The Cronulla situation came to a head when media reports suggested up to 14 players were to be offered six month bans in exchange for a guilty plea due to alleged use of equine drugs banned by WADA.
What followed at Cronulla was a shambles. Four senior staff were sacked and the coach suspended by the Board, followed by the Chairman of the Board himself standing down.
This is not a way to manage your club in a crisis, hardly a blueprint for other sporting organisations to follow.
The NRL has had no choice but to parachute in management and key staff to rescue the club. Although in the NRL’s case it might suit another agenda.
There has been no such collapse at Essendon, despite a similar threat posed by the ASADA investigation.
The Chairman, CEO and Coach at Essendon fronted a press conference and announced they were calling in ASADA and the AFL to investigate.
This was followed by a request for an external management review of ‘irregular’ practices at the club.
The only similarity was the removal of the High performance Manager at each club, although in Essendon’s case Dean Robinson was stood down, not sacked.
It would be naive though to suggest that both Cronulla and Essendon did not have some idea of a massive problem prior to these events. To that end there will be consequences at Essendon once the facts are known, but not kneejerk sackings.
The nature of the supplements in use at Cronulla and Essendon is a complete unknown. There appears to be evidence by virtue of the six month offers to players that banned substances have been taken at Cronulla.
External and internal messages to date suggest Essendon may be in more trouble for the methods used (injections), rather than performance enhancing drug use.
A whistleblower exists in the Cronulla case; these is no whistleblower to date at Essendon.
If the worst case occurs for both clubs and ASADA bans multiple players or the whole club, the outcome will also be different in terms of how each governing body manages the impact.
The NRL is behind the AFL in its expansion plans. It has designs on a team in Western Australia and South Australia where it has no presence. There is also the possiblity of an extra team in Queensland and New Zealand.
The NRL perhaps might have engineered the removal of the entire management structure at Cronulla so it can effectively control the destiny of the licence depending on the severity of the ASADA bans.
The AFL, on the other hand, has already taken bold steps in expansion with two new clubs in NSW and Queensland.
Consolidation is the mantra for the AFL. There is no need to weaken Essendon anymore than it deserves.
Cronulla is a relatively unsuccessful club with a small fan-base.
Essendon has been a very successful club for much of its existence with an enormous fan-base.
The attitude of NRL v AFL fans is also different.
NRL fans of other clubs see a crippled or missing Cronulla perhaps as an opportunity; AFL fans in the main see a crippled or missing Essendon as unfavourable to the competition as a whole.
I think the latter response is correct for both NRL and AFL fans as the whole situation is tragic for the fans of the clubs involved, and there are unforeseen serious consequences to the respective competitions.
The bottom line is that no-one really knows what has occurred and it is too early to make bold statements that Cronulla and Essendon are on the same trajectory.