The AFL charges relating to Essendon are damning

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert


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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.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    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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    The Crowd Says (226)

    • August 21st 2013 @ 4:09pm
      Ian Whitchurch said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

      There is no evidence Essendon Football Club ever sought clarification of AOD-9604 from ASADA.

      Here is a chunk of the Reid letter dealing with the drug – you would have thought this would have triggered a check.

      “I am still not sure whether AOD/9604 is approved by the drug authorities in Australia at this stage. Just because it is not classified as illegal, doesn’t mean that it can be used freely in the community, it cannot. The other interesting thing about AOD/9604, is that its market in America is in body builders. This also should raise a red flag if we are worried about perception.”

      Then. to cite the charge sheet,

      59. Reid should not have given any form of approval to the administration of AOD-9604 to players because:
      (a) the literature provided to him by Robinson on 15 January 2012 included statements that:
      (i) “Development was terminated following an oral phase 2B human clinical trial in February 2007 which failed to prove efficacy”;
      (ii) “If AOD was legal/more easily obtainable, users advise they would use AOD more often”;
      (b) he made no direct inquiries of ASADA in relation to whether AOD-9604 was a prohibited substance;
      (c) he did not receive any document from Dank or Robinson demonstrating that ASADA had stated that AOD-9604 was not a prohibited substance;

      However, Essendon’s players problems wont be about AOD-9604 – they will be about thymosin beta-4. Point 72 clearly foreshadows actions against players for taking that S2-banned drug.

      72. The Thymosin referred to on the “Patient Information/Informed Consent” forms and administered to the players was:
      (a) Thymosin Beta-4 which is prohibited by the AFL Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code (the relevant facts in relation to this allegation are set out in Annexure A to this Notice of Charge); alternatively
      (b) a substance in respect of which the Club had failed to reasonably satisfy itself was not prohibited by the AFL Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code.

      • Columnist

        August 21st 2013 @ 4:13pm
        Glenn Mitchell said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

        Thanks for adding the expansive extra quotes from the charge sheet Ian.

        None of this portrays Essendon in a favourable light.

        • August 21st 2013 @ 6:57pm
          Australian Rules said | August 21st 2013 @ 6:57pm | ! Report

          Paul Little’s take-away from the report is that there were “shortcomings in governance and management practices in late 2011 and 2012.”

          Understatement of the decade?

    • August 21st 2013 @ 4:13pm
      GazzaW said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

      AOD-9064 was always the drug focused on because it was a known factor but now we know about the other drugs the ramifications for the players is even worse. While there may have been some doubt about advise regarding AOD-9064 there is little doubt about thymosin beta 4. Numerous players could be facing lengthy bans

      • Columnist

        August 21st 2013 @ 4:17pm
        Glenn Mitchell said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

        The problem will be Gazza determining which players were administered what.

        Sanctions cannot be handed out on guesswork.

        Hence, I think the club itself will bear significant penalties.

        • August 21st 2013 @ 4:22pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:22pm | ! Report

          No need.

          By signing the paperwork, players showed attempted use.

          11.2 Use or Attempted Use by a Player of a Prohibited Substance or a Prohibited Method.9
          (a) It is each Player’s personal duty to ensure that no Prohibited Substance enters
          his body. Accordingly, it is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence or
          knowing Use on the Player’s part be demonstrated in order to establish an Anti
          Doping Rule Violation for Use of a Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method.
          (b) The success or failure of the Use or Attempted Use of a Prohibited Substance
          or Prohibited Method is not material. It is sufficient that the Prohibited
          Substance or Prohibited Method was Used or Attempted to be Used for an Anti
          Doping Rule Violation to be committed.10

          • Columnist

            August 21st 2013 @ 4:28pm
            Glenn Mitchell said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

            Well pointed out Ian.

          • August 21st 2013 @ 4:30pm
            Pope Paul VII said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:30pm | ! Report

            Then they are toast. The Essendon people are nuts, they’ve wasted a year of these players’ lives.

            • August 21st 2013 @ 9:03pm
              c said | August 21st 2013 @ 9:03pm | ! Report

              a year ! just hope the medical ramifications are not any longer

          • August 21st 2013 @ 8:06pm
            Jax said | August 21st 2013 @ 8:06pm | ! Report

            Why hasn’t Dank been forced to tell all under the new legislative powers we have? Will we see Dank testify? Does the EFC, Hird, the AFL or ASADA want Dank to tell all? Dank should be forced to testify and anyone wanting to clear their name should subpoena him in a civil action.

            There’s lot’s more of this story to come I’m afraid

        • August 21st 2013 @ 4:25pm
          GazzaW said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

          Only if ASADA’s final report can’t come up with anyone specific.
          For the players it all depends on what’s in the final report. but if names are in there it could be a disaster.

    • August 21st 2013 @ 4:23pm
      Slane said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

      Now maybe people will stop being delusional. This is big and it’s very bad for the bombers. Dr. Reid’s letter was damning.

      • Columnist

        August 21st 2013 @ 4:25pm
        Glenn Mitchell said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

        It certainly was.

        Very strange that it appears that Hird did not give it the credence it seemingly deserved.

        • August 21st 2013 @ 4:28pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

          No, not at all strange – James Hird had form in ignoring complaints about experimental pharmacology.

          20. On 22 August 2011 Robinson sent to Hird the results of a clinical trial from University of New South Wales on the pathway of the effectiveness of a supplement known as Lactaway. The paper was co-authored by Dank.

          21. On 23 August 2011 Hird received from Benita Lalor (Lalor), the Club’s then Performance Dietitian and Recovery Coordinator, her appraisal of Lactaway. Ms Lalor’s appraisal included statements that suggested that there was no meaningful proof of beneficial effects, no data on the side effects/long term use of Lactaway in elite athletes and potentially relevant warnings that its use may cause additional muscle damage.

          22. Less than three minutes after receiving this information from Lalor, Hird forwarded her email to Corcoran with the comment: “This is what we are dealing with.”

          23. Later on 23 August 2011 Corcoran emailed a reply to Hird stating “Jim – unfortunately they know everything and can’t learn any more! Time to move on! …”

          • August 21st 2013 @ 4:54pm
            Australian Rules said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

            Hird looks appalling in this report. These paras caught my eye as well:

            62. On 18 January 2012, the Club was billed by Como for seven vials of Hexarelin and 26 vials of “peptide Thymosin” at a combined cost of $9,860.

            63. Notwithstanding that the Club was billed for substances prohibited by the AFL Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code, no person at the Club recognised and properly responded to this indication that players may have been, or may be about to be, administered prohibited substances.

            64. On 30 January 2012 Hird forwarded a text message to Corcoran stating, in part:
            “No stress but need to organise a meeting with you me Reidy, Danksy and Weapon the day you get back. Reidy has stopped everything which is getting a little frustrating. Need to get your United Nations skills back into action.”

            • August 21st 2013 @ 8:15pm
              Jax said | August 21st 2013 @ 8:15pm | ! Report

              That text is an eye-popper

        • August 21st 2013 @ 7:40pm
          Phil Maguire said | August 21st 2013 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

          James Hird was focused on using the supplements. However, he insisted that they be legal and not potentially harmful to players. The email exchanges prove this. The fact that he disagreed with Dr Reid over a particular substance is no proof of wrong doing unless the substance was illegal.

          That brings us right back to the the information released at the parents meeting last night which the AFL considered so damaging that it prompted the immediate release of the charge sheet.

          • Columnist

            August 21st 2013 @ 9:10pm
            Glenn Mitchell said | August 21st 2013 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

            As I understand it Phil, given what Demetriou said on radio on Friday the charges were intended to be released this week so I am not sure there announcement today was merely as a result of last night’s meeting.

            • August 21st 2013 @ 9:14pm
              Phil Maguire said | August 21st 2013 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

              It was just a coinidence, Glenn. Yeah right!

              • August 22nd 2013 @ 10:33am
                Jacques of Lilydale said | August 22nd 2013 @ 10:33am | ! Report

                The AFL was forced to release the report due to the Essendon media spin doctors and notables such as Tim Watson releasing statements to the press that the players and Essendon’s stance on everything had been vindicated. Really Tim? According to Watson, who is now as discredited as Mark “slant eyes”McVeigh, parents have been told and are now re-assured that nothing untoward was given to their boys!! I’m sure they haven’t been privy to the charge sheet and information contained therein.. And Hird is still denying everything. What an egomaniac he is, bigger than his club and he will drag it down with him. He has lost my respect, I used to begrudgingly respect him, his standing within the football community, apart from the usual delusional Essendon group, is now shot and dragging his name through the courts will finally finish him off for good.

              • Columnist

                August 22nd 2013 @ 10:54am
                Glenn Mitchell said | August 22nd 2013 @ 10:54am | ! Report

                Did the AFL announce on Friday morning prior to any announcement by Essendon about a parents’ and partners’ meeting being called on Tuesday, stat that it was going to release the charge sheet this week?

                You seem to think that they didn’t by your assertions.

      • Roar Pro

        August 21st 2013 @ 4:27pm
        Doug Deep said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:27pm | ! Report

        Go and read Bomberblitz. It’s staggering, haha. Their denial knows no limits.

      • August 21st 2013 @ 5:47pm
        Bill Larkin said | August 21st 2013 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

        Yup, Reid’s letter alone was enough to condemn the whole club. If only 25% of the charges are proven, not only should Essendon be stripped of points this year, but should be banned completely next year (at least).

        • August 21st 2013 @ 6:14pm
          fadida said | August 21st 2013 @ 6:14pm | ! Report

          Agree. If guilty the club should be banned

        • August 22nd 2013 @ 2:11pm
          Mike said | August 22nd 2013 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

          Interestingly that could be a good and healthy option.

          Just as long as everyone considers the ramifications. The players will then be able to litigate the EFC, the AFL, and ASADA if any advice regarding any substances administered and leads to bans, was not clear and concise.

          As long at this measure would set the standard for all penalties for all clubs for these and related offences, especially players or staff taking illegal substances such as crack, mariajuana, designer drugs etc.

          To ban a player for being given AOD9064 under club trust for 2 years and then not banning a player for taking crack (a federal drug offence) would be the highest point of hypocrisy the sport has ever seen.

          The application of bringing the sport and/or AFL into disrepute would then need to be applied for all equal levity offences: Players convicted of drink driving, assault, affray etc. Officials contravening any laws.

          How could acts of violence off the field be lightly punished, or not at all, when a player cops 2 years for AOD9064?

          Just as long as we align the severity of the levels of punishment for all offences then it would be healthy for the game in general.

          The next ramification will be the potential that the litigations could bankrupt the EFC. Now I can already see opposing clubs fans dancing at this idea, however I am not sure that would service our game at all. Then litigation would be launched by the EFC against the AFL, and the courts do not see our game the way we do. Their judgements may change how our “sport” is managed forever.

          The end result would include sharp rises in ticket prices to maintain AFL profitability when a major club goes down. This is quite possible if 25-35 of the EFC senior players cop 2 year WADA designated minimum bans. It would also cement WADA as a core legal and management/compliance factor directly into Australian Rules across the country.

          All we need now are clear and honest accounts from all parties concerned about who told whom what and when. It is easy for WADA to say it is irrelevant what ASADA has advised, only our rules and decisions are binding. In which case why would anyone in their right mind ever ask ASADA for advice again? You would leave yourself exposed to massive penalties. All clarifications would be required, in writing, from a senior WADA official, and you would then need your lawyers, sporting code managers ie AFL) and govt bodies (ie ADSADA) to confirm that you fit into all three layers of laws and regulations.

          Otherwise you are toasted. And right now the EFC is turning from lightly browned to inedibly darkened…

    • August 21st 2013 @ 4:31pm
      Stevo said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:31pm | ! Report

    • Columnist

      August 21st 2013 @ 4:45pm
      Tim Renowden said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

      It looks worse and worse for Essendon’s players. If they’ve signed consent forms there’s an obvious argument that they intended to use S2-banned substances, regardless of which players actually received the treatment. That alone could be enough evidence to earn bans, if WADA considers this evidence of an attempt to use a banned substance.

      The WADA code explicitly states that an attempt to use a banned substance is enough to be found guilty:

      “2.2.2 The success or failure of the Use or Attempted Use of a Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method is not material. It is sufficient that the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method was Used or Attempted to be Used for an antidoping rule violation to be committed.”

      Sounds fanciful? In 2007 Italian cyclist Ivan Basso was given a two-year ban as part of the Operacion Puerto investigation, when he was linked to the doctor at the centre of the scandal. At the time, there was no hard evidence that he had undertaken illegal blood transfusions (he later admitted it) but he was banned on the basis of evidence showing clear intent (ie he met with the doping doctor). There are many other similar examples in cycling and other sports.

      The question for the Bombers’ players is why would you sign a consent form if you didn’t intend to undergo the treatment?

      • Columnist

        August 21st 2013 @ 4:48pm
        Glenn Mitchell said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

        That last question is a very salient one Tim.

        • Columnist

          August 21st 2013 @ 4:53pm
          Tim Renowden said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

          If ASADA plays hard ball and starts from that position, we might see some sudden prisoner’s dilemma cooperation from players, too.

          • August 21st 2013 @ 5:01pm
            Ian Whitchurch said | August 21st 2013 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

            There is also this

            14.12 (c) Withholding of Financial Support during Ineligibility
            In addition for any Anti Doping Rule Violation not involving Specified Substances, some or all sport related financial support or other sport related benefits received by such Player will be withheld by the AFL or the AFL Club.

            Thymosin beta-4 isnt a Specified Substance.

        • August 21st 2013 @ 8:20pm
          Jax said | August 21st 2013 @ 8:20pm | ! Report

          The consent forms were an after-thought I believe ie the program was well under and already off-site before the forms were signed.

          If that’s true, the EFC threw their players under the bus

    • Roar Guru

      August 21st 2013 @ 4:58pm
      TomC said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

      Just watched the press conference.

      Little and Hird seem quite genuine in their belief that there is an AFL conspiracy out to get them.

      I don’t really know how else to put it.

      Instead of defending themselves against any of the charges, they lashed out at the AFL and the process.

      This will go to the courts. This will drag on for years.

      • August 21st 2013 @ 5:07pm
        GazzaW said | August 21st 2013 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

        Classic Armstrong defence He did it for years trying do anything he could to discredit accusers media even teammates just so the illusion was maintained.
        Essendon current leadership seem determined to follow a similar path it’s like the slogan “whatever it takes” is still the guiding principle.

      • August 21st 2013 @ 5:08pm
        Ian Whitchurch said | August 21st 2013 @ 5:08pm | ! Report

        Yes and no.

        First of all, Im not even certain a court would want to hear it – note the AFL is being nice and careful on natural justice issues.

        Secondly, courts have traditionally been very reluctant to interfere in the internal workings of a sport.

        Thirdly, this case just came down in the Federal Court – different sport, blah blah, but interesting.

        Finally, the facts are not in favour of Essendon in all this.

        • Roar Guru

          August 21st 2013 @ 6:04pm
          TomC said | August 21st 2013 @ 6:04pm | ! Report

          Yeah, I’m a bit uncertain as to what Essendon’s grounds would be. They’ve been happy to be bound by the AFL’s processes to this point.

          And what will their argument be? That the AFL conducted a vendetta against them for no reason?

          • August 21st 2013 @ 6:07pm
            Ian Whitchurch said | August 21st 2013 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

            As far as I can tell, the grounds are ‘We are Essendon, and can inject our players with whatever we like, and you – the AFL – cant do anything about it’.

            • August 22nd 2013 @ 2:16pm
              Mike said | August 22nd 2013 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

              I have not seen a single skerrick of evidence to substantiate that assertion Ian. That may be because that is indeed as far as you can tell.

              Lot’s wrong here from the EFC, but that claim is purest schadenfreude speculation.

      • August 21st 2013 @ 5:29pm
        ciudadmarron said | August 21st 2013 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

        It’s a massive turnaround.

        They appeared so frustrated that they couldn’t talk about the case or divulge what information they had that you almost believed that behind closed doors it was all going swimmingly for them.

        And now it’s “the AFL should not have released the details”.

        Can’t have it both ways boys!