Essendon saga not done with yet

Sean Lee Columnist

By Sean Lee, Sean Lee is a Roar Expert

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    Jobe Watson’s public admission last Monday evening that he had taken the banned substance AOD-9604 is the first piece of hard evidence that those outside of the current AFL-ASADA investigation have been given with regards to the Essendon supplement scandal.

    The revelation contained nothing new for the investigators, but it did give the general public and the football media something extra to sink their teeth into, allowing them to upgrade the many rumours and suspicions surrounding the whole affair from mere gossip to something more definable.

    But while it brought to an end months of speculation about what the Essendon players may or may not have taken, it has done nothing to advance the progress of the current investigation or to provide answers as to the type or severity of sanctions that may follow.

    While it may seem to be a cut and dried case – player admits to drug taking, player is punished – it is still anything but.

    The Roar’s Glenn Mitchell wrote an excellent piece earlier this week focusing on the athlete’s responsibility to know what is being put into his or her body. And he is exactly right.

    In this era of professionalism the onus is on our athletes to ensure that they are being treated within the bounds of acceptability.

    WADA is explicit on this point and all the excuses under the sun will not give an athlete exemption from sanctioning.

    There is a ‘no fault’ clause hidden somewhere among all the rules and regulations, but it is rarely applied successfully and it is doubtful whether Essendon could pursue that path.

    And yet, despite all the noise being made by former ASADA head Richard Ings about bans now being unavoidable for the players of the Essendon Football Club he still suggests that it is premature to discuss rescinding Watson’s Brownlow medal.


    Surely if, as he so stridently puts it, the athlete is solely responsible for what goes into his body and bans are unavoidable should that athlete stray into prohibited territory whether knowingly or otherwise, then removal of awards won during that time would be a no brainer?

    Conflicting information has been the hallmark of this saga since the beginning, especially that which has filtered down to the public. This has been compounded by a perceived confidence from the Essendon Football Club that they will eventually be found to have done little wrong.

    And when it is all said and done, perhaps the players themselves did do little wrong.

    As part of its education process, the AFL sends its medical officers to each club during the pre-season. Their direction to the players should they encounter a questionable substance is to raise their concerns with the club doctor.

    But what if the club doctor is part of the whole ‘pharmacologically experimental environment’ that was so colourfully described in Ziggy Switkowski report into the club’s governance?

    Initially we were led to believe that Bruce Reid, Essendon’s long standing and highly respected doctor, was staunchly opposed to the supplements program. But Watson’s interview on Monday night places the doctor firmly at the coalface.

    “I signed that consent form and my understanding, after it being given through Bruce Reid and the club, (was) that I was receiving AOD,” said Watson.

    “….the understanding we had through the advice we got and through the medical doctor at the football club, (was) that it was a legal substance.”

    They are damning words for the club’s medical department which once claimed that it was pushed aside or bypassed by the ‘rogue’ element at the football club led by former club sports scientist Stephen Dank.

    If the players are guilty of anything, it is of being too trusting of those in charge, and too slow to react when things started to spiral out of control. Sure, it is easy to criticise from afar and with the added benefit of hindsight, but the words stupid and naïve also come to mind.

    But then, throw an alleged communication with WADA into the mix – one that seemed to approve the use of the substance – and things become murkier again.

    The alleged communication may or may not exist, but its ghost continues to lurk in the background and Essendon’s fate may rest upon it. It is a vital piece of evidence, one which even Ings suggests is a ‘get out of jail card’.

    There was definite confusion when the story first broke with conflicting information coming from the ACC, the Therapeutic Drugs Administration, ASADA and WADA.

    And while it now seems beyond doubt that AOD-9604 is, and was, a banned substance, was this clearly conveyed to Essendon before it embarked upon its controversial program?

    Or did the ‘rogue’ element within the club manipulate and mislead those in power in order to get approval for their ‘cutting edge’ approach to the management of player recovery?

    Hopefully the answers to these questions are being uncovered by the AFL-ASADA investigators and that a resolution, one way or the other, can be arrived at soon.

    Don’t be holding your breath though. This case is not done with yet.

    For the six players alleged to have taken AOD-9604, the waiting game must be a nightmare. It appears now that they knowingly took AOD-9604, most likely under the assumption that it was legal.

    That will matter nought to the anti-doping authorities unless that information somehow came from them, but should it be revealed that misinformation regarding the supplement program was distributed from within the club, then a blood letting of the medical department for not double checking the so called facts needs to be immediate, no matter how long the individuals have worked there.

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    The Crowd Says (13)

    • June 27th 2013 @ 9:14am
      Michael Jenkins said | June 27th 2013 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      To suggest as Hirdy spin says” a sensitive and complex issue”, for me its black and white, do the crime, do the time….. There is a young AFL player who got suspended for 18 months for importing a banned substance that was taken by authorities and it was noted he didn’t even have a chance to take and he was suspended for 18months, the hypocrisy of the AFL and ASADA is gauling and insulting.

    • June 27th 2013 @ 9:23am
      Brendan said | June 27th 2013 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      What is AOD-9604? ASADA say is it is an anti obesity drug. How is it performance enhancing? no-one has addressed this question. It would seem that the ASADA under Kate Lundy were in need of some Media spotlight. (of course the media did not notice how often Kate Lundy was shown in the background of Gillard interviews after this “story” broke).The frenzy in the media is driven by the usual lack of any substance made up of speculation and chest beating. But, I am impressed that all of these finger pointers can stand up and say that they have never taken anything illegal. UNTIL the powers that be make up more retrospective laws

      • June 27th 2013 @ 1:55pm
        Ian Whitchurch said | June 27th 2013 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

        Theres three legs to this triangle (or perhaps tripod).

        We want to get bigger, faster, stronger and have more endurance. This means we need to train harder than the human body is arguably meant to.

        The first one is a brutal preseason. Cue The Weapon, stage left.

        The second one is a healing promotant, to deal with all these brutal niggles. Something like beta thymosin-4.

        The third one is to up the calorie intake, because all that running and weights is burning a lot of energy. But we dont want this to turn into fat, so we use a fat burner, like AOD-9604, only we inject it to maximise bioavailability, because the trials done show taking it as a pill doesnt work.

        Note : it is entirely possible that muscles might react slightly better than ligaments to this process. Dont blame me for a rash of soft tissue injuries.

        Note 2 : This is as illegal as all get out under WADA. Please do not do this if you are a professional athlete subject to the WADA code.

      • June 27th 2013 @ 9:45pm
        Bill Larkin said | June 27th 2013 @ 9:45pm | ! Report

        If this drug is harmless as you say, why aren’t the players still taking it? Why did they sign consent forms if it was a type of proverbial herbal tea?

    • June 27th 2013 @ 9:47am
      Ian Whitchurch said | June 27th 2013 @ 9:47am | ! Report

      “The alleged communication may or may not exist, but its ghost continues to lurk in the background and Essendon’s fate may rest upon it. It is a vital piece of evidence, one which even Ings suggests is a ‘get out of jail card’.”

      If that communication existed, it would have been found and been mentioned in the Ziggy report.

      Danks’ emails with WADA where they tell him to ‘check S0’ are as good as it gets. This is over.

    • Columnist

      June 27th 2013 @ 10:23am
      Tim Renowden said | June 27th 2013 @ 10:23am | ! Report

      Great piece, Sean.

      The fact that the players appear to have been badly let down by their club will matter not a bit when it comes to penalties from ASADA/WADA. There is so much precedent in this type of situation, with coaches and team medical staff giving athletes banned drugs without their knowledge or fully informed consent, that it’s hard to see how bans can be avoided.

      This was exactly the sort of behaviour that used to happen in cycling, or in the East German sports programme, and it’s precisely why WADA has such strict personal liability rules. Otherwise you introduce an element of plausible deniability and a huge loophole for cheats.

    • June 27th 2013 @ 2:53pm
      Hawker said | June 27th 2013 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

      lock them all up

    • Roar Guru

      June 27th 2013 @ 5:11pm
      TomC said | June 27th 2013 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

      There seems to be an underling theme in Sean’s article that the uncertainty around this case holds some hope for Essendon.

      But it seems like every time we get a new piece of information it makes the case look worse for the Bombers.

      Dank was painted as a rogue element, and Sean still describes him as such, but the revelation of text messages and Jobe’s description of the doctor’s involvement make that seem like a misrepesentation.

      Unless Watson wasn’t telling the truth, there is no longer any doubt that a banned substance was taken.

      There has never been any evidence of the exonerating communication by WADA. Essendon were happy to leak informtion backing up Dank’s statement that it existed, but couldnt produce it. It now appears that Dank was referring to an email since made public that clearly did not clear the use of AOD9604. I’m not sure there really is any significant doubt about this communication. I don’t think it’s worth mentioning any more.

      And through all of this there have been leaks from the club to the media regarding Essendon’s confidence that they would be exonerated, despite all the available evidence appearing pretty damning. Whatever the truth is, these leaks are clearly aimed at presenting an image of innocence to the football public.

      The Switkowski report bluntly concluded that Essendon had significant governance issues around its supplements program, that created a risk of misuse.

      Given all of that, why would we continue to give Essendon the benefit of the doubt? They have conducted a very smart PR campaign throughout this process, leaking convenient information while tightly managing anything particularly incriminating. I think it is safe to say that if there was significant evidence out there that could exonerate Essendon or mitigate their actions, it would’ve been made public by now.

      • Columnist

        June 27th 2013 @ 5:44pm
        Sean Lee said | June 27th 2013 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

        Agree with all you’ve said there Tom. As I said in my last paragraph, the only thing that will save them is if they did get dodgy info from the anti doping authority, otherwise all the spin in the world won’t save them from sanctions. The reason I mentioned the communication with WADA again was because Richard Ings himself brought it up. With regards to the doctor, I think it is disappointing that the medical staff didn’t do more to circumvent the situation, and in my opinion that makes them just as culpable as the ringmasters of the whole affair. Unfortunately the players appear to have been caught in the middle, a defence that will neither save them nor lessen the pain should the investigation not pan out to Essendon’s liking. It doesn’t look good.

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