The AFL charges relating to Essendon are damning

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(L-R) James Hird, Sam Lonergan and Dean Robinson share a conversation during an Essendon Bombers training session at Windy Hill, Melbourne. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL)

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We finally know what charges the Essendon Football Club and four of its key employees – coach James Hird, his senior assistant Mark Thompson, football manager Danny Corcoran and club doctor Bruce Reid – are facing.

The AFL publicly released the 15-point charge sheet (which summarises 135 points pertaining to the club’s conduct) at AFL House today.

The opening charge stated that those cited, “engaged in practices that exposed players to significant risks to their health and safety as well as at risk of using substances that were prohibited by the AFL Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code”.

As expected, much of the charge sheet relates to failures of accountability and due diligence with regards to the club’s management processes, something highlighted several months ago by the club itself through its internal review carried out by former Telstra CEO, Ziggy Switkowski.

The charge sheet lists a cornucopia of substances and drugs that were administered during 2011 and 2012 under the stewardship of sports scientist Stephen Dank.

The list of 15 substances includes AOD-9604 (both injectable and in cream form) and Thymosin Beta 4, Heraxelin and myriad other drugs.

The status of AOD-9604 has been a point of conjecture ever since the drug was first raised as one of those that was in use within Essendon.

Yesterday, former AFL anti-doping tribunal member, Dr Andrew Garnham said on Fox Footy’s AFL 360 program that he had received advice from ASADA in February that AOD-9604 was not a banned substance.

He says that he relayed that information to people at Essendon.

All through this process, WADA, the authority charged with the responsibility of determining where drugs sit with regard to legality in sport has deemed AOD-9604 to be a banned substance.

It is now incumbent on ASADA to publicly state what information it supplied to Essendon, perhaps via Stephen Dank, with respect to the drug.

More importantly, the major issue is the actual date that the club was informed of its status.

If it was around the time that Garnham found out it would still leave the club open to sanctions in regard to its use if it had not sought and received clarification during 2011 and 2012 when it was administered.

Of more concern however, is the listing of Thymosin Beta 4 and Heraxelin, category S2 substances under the WADA Code, which bring with them a two-year sanction for any athlete to have been administered it.

At present no players have been served with infraction notices but it must be stressed that the ASADA investigation is ongoing.

One of the major issues facing ASADA with respect to possible player sanctions is the clear lack of paperwork held by the club.

Dank, the man at the centre of the saga, purports to have a detailed file that outlines the drugs used, the dosage and the frequency of use.

Presently he has refused to co-operate with the investigation but he does hold a significant key when it comes to the likelihood of players being charged, as highlighted by a previous column I wrote on this website.

Throughout the past six months, there has been a deal of contrition from key members of the Essendon hierarchy with respect to the way the situation at the club was handled.

Former CEO Ian Robson and recently resigned chairman, David Evans have both spoken about shortcomings within the club that led to the sports science program getting out of hand.

All through this period one man has professed almost total denial of any possible wrongdoing – James Hird.

Today’s release by the AFL does not paint a very favourable picture for the Bombers’ coach.

On 5 August 2011 – around the genesis of the program in question – Brett Clothier, an officer from the AFL integrity unit warned Hird to stay away from the use of peptides as part of the club’s conditioning program.

The meeting, also attended by key staff within the football department, arose as a result of the AFL being made aware that Hird had made approaches to ASADA to enquire about the status of peptide use.

The ASADA investigation states that in December 2011 convicted drug trafficker Shane Carter provided Nima Alavi, a Melbourne compounding chemist with the raw materials to produce several substances that are banned under the WADA Code, including Thymosin Beta 4.

Carter’s involvement came about as a result of Hird having received nutritional advice from him during his playing days in the mid-2000s.

In January 2012, Essendon was presented with an invoice for $4200 for 14 vials of the banned substance Heraxelin.

A little later, Alavi sent the club another bill for Heraxelin and a “Thymosin peptide” to the value of $9400.

It was around this period that Dr Reid, the club doctor for over three decades, raised concerns about the path the club was heading down with regard to its sports science program.

In a letter to Hird and the football manager at the time, Paul Hamilton, Reid said, “I have trouble with these drugs … It is my belief in AFL that we should be winning flags by keeping a drug free culture”.

Text messages subsequently obtained by ASADA highlight Hird’s frustrations at Reid’s ill ease with the program.

One of the most worrying aspects for the Bombers is the fact that Dank told the playing group that they would be receiving dosages of AOD-9604 far beyond what was being administered through the drug’s clinical trial.

Given the drug is regarded by WADA to fall within the S0 clause for drugs yet to have received approval for human therapeutic use, the fact that Dank was willing to administer quantities well in excess of the human trials raises serious concerns in relation to the players’ health.

For whatever reason, Reid did not choose to strongly pursue his concerns surrounding the program.

We now know the charges that have been levelled at the football club and four of its key personnel.

On face value, given the depth of information contained within the ASADA interim report and the chronicling of numerous WADA banned substances there appears little doubt that those charged have a strong case to answer with respect to bringing the AFL into disrepute and conduct unbecoming.

We now await the outcome of the AFL hearings with great interest.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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