Jobe Watson should have been suspended immediately

Peter Neal Roar Rookie

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Do Essendon's players deserve further punishment? (Photo: Andrew White/AFL Media)

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Last week Jobe Watson, captain of the Essendon Football Club, publicly admitted that he was repeatedly injected with AOD-9604 during the 2012 season.

AOD-9604 is a prohibited substance; don’t be confused by statements from Essendon chairman, David Evans: as an experimental drug, it is prohibited for use by athletes under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances. There’s no debate on this.

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), whose role is to enforce the WADA code, has explicitly confirmed that AOD-9604 use is prohibited under all circumstances.

In other words, it is a strict-liability offence and claiming ignorance is no defence. Even the boss of WADA, John Fahey, made a statement on the captain’s fate, saying there are no excuses for him taking AOD-9604.

Meanwhile, the ASADA investigation into the Essendon FC’s doping continues, and naturally the AFL and/or Essendon FC shouldn’t hand down suspensions to players who have not publicly admitted use and exercised their right to silence until the formal ASADA report is eventually delivered.

But the case for Jobe Watson is different; he has admitted use in a very public way. Here is the captain of a top football club admitting to signing consent forms, admitting that he took a prohibited substance over an extended period of time, and yet no action has been taken.

Arguments that ‘he shouldn’t be stood down because we don’t know if he took the drug’ are empty: what more evidence do we need, video footage of a needle labelled with “AOD-9604″ being injected into his arm?

Of course, the AFL should wait to hand down its ultimate punishment when all information is available. But in the meantime, his suspension should have been automatic.

Remember, both the AFL and Essendon FC have the power to enforce suspensions without external pressure. They don’t need to wait for an infraction notice to be handed down by ASADA. In fact, each day they don’t act, they send the message that “the AFL or clubs won’t act unless ASADA forces their hand”.

Compare this case to that of Stephen Milne: last week, rape charges were re-opened against him and he was immediately stood down by his club on an indefinite basis. The AFL supported that decision. Milne has made no admissions whatsoever.

In every other professional sport worldwide, admitting use of a prohibited substance would lead to an immediate ban. Former Olympian and sports commentator David Culbert has said that “if Jobe Watson was supposed to ride the Tour de France, he wouldn’t be on the starting line this weekend”. Former AFL star Peter Bell has stated his concerns that if he is continued to allow playing, it “will reduce, in the eyes of international sport, the AFL to a laughing stock”.

On Thursday, Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinley said that he doesn’t have a problem with Watson playing. But don’t forget, his team is affected by this scandal as well with new recruit Angus Monfries coming straight from Essendon this year.

Port Adelaide chief executive Keith Thomas has conceded sanctions against Essendon may apply to Monfries as well.

Just imagine if Jobe’s performance on the field proves to be pivotal to Essendon’s early finals success, like his performance last week against West Coast was, only for him to be suspended down the track? It would turn the finals into a farce.

This is unfair for every other team in the league and not just the other players who actively avoid avoided drugs, but also the fans who pay to see a fair competition.

Each day his position in the team continues, the legitimacy of the AFL is undermined, suspicion of players taking banned substances increases, and the integrity of the AFL is damaged in the public eye.

Don’t expect the boos to go away, and don’t expect parents to be so eager to introduce their kids to the game any time in the near future.

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