It is unfair that the fate of the Essendon players – the real victims of the whole supplement saga – now reside in the hands of ASADA.
The Switkowski report did not recommend the sacking or suspension of any of the Essendon staff responsible for the recruitment of sports scientist Stephen Dank and the monitoring of his “pharmacologically experimental” regimen.
That may be a fair judgement, it may not be.
But the future of the players is not so certain.
The interrogation of the club’s players has begun. Permitted one support person and requiring legal representation provided by the AFLPA, the players are to be grilled during “lengthy and often intensive interviews”.
The purpose of the interviews is presumably to discover what substances were administered.
The only person who knows the truth is Stephen Dank. And Dank does not have to be, and apparently doesn’t want to be, interviewed.
If James Hird believed everything was above-board why would the players know any better.
They’ve been advised by ASADA to be “open and honest” which is all very well however by telling the anti-doping authority everything they know about being treated like laboratory monkeys they may be unwittingly setting themselves up.
Under WADA’ strict and sometimes ruthless code of liability, if the Essendon players were found to have been injected with AOD-9604 (which WADA have made a point of announcing, after being swamped by numerous enquiries resulting from the Bomber saga, is banned on account of it “not being approved for therapeutic use by any government health authority in the world”) they could be found to be guilty of doping and liable for suspension even if Dank lied about the type of substance he was administering, or its prohibited status.
It’s unfair and absurd, really. WADA’s tenet that “athletes are responsible for their choice of medical personnel” clearly does not apply at a major sporting club, as they are chosen for them.
Furthermore the people involved in the administering of supplements are not doctors but “sports scientists”.
A 17-year-old draftee at the beginning of his career is not going to voice his concerns or challenge coaches who may be legends of the game and in the words of Ziggy Switkowski, “charismatic alpha males who carry the weight of supporters’ expectations on their shoulders”.
As well as being suspended and having their reputation tainted there are the potential risks to long-term health resulting from ingesting substances not yet approved for human use.
Previous to the Switkowski report AFLPA chief Matt Finnis had stressed to players the need to report drug breaches which if the only player to be suspended for taking a banned substance, Justin Charles, was correct (“if you think I was the first or the last, you are absolutely kidding yourself.”) is still a problem, at least at an individual level.
After the release of the report, however, Finnis stressed his concerns that club weren’t fulfilling their duty of care towards their players.
Even the controversial biochemist Shane Charter, the convicted importer of large quantities of pseudoephedrine, used to make amphetamines, and once a supplier of prohibited substances to Dank hopes the players are cleared of any wrongdoing.
The problem for the players is, they don’t need to have done anything wrong to be found guilty.
Let’s hope the news this morning that the Essendon interviews will be sped up and that ASADA and the AFL are “on the verge of reaching a mutually satisfactory arrangement” is good news for the players.