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Alarm bells still ring for the AFL

27th August, 2013
5

Essendon copped the biggest whack in Australian sport. They’re dealt the biggest ever fine – $2 million. They’re banned from the biggest stage – the AFL finals.

They’re given big draft penalties.

Coach James Hird is suspended for 12 months – the biggest ban of an AFL coach.

All are undoubtedly big punishments in the code’s biggest scandal.

Yet the biggest question remains: Did Essendon players take banned drugs?

Until that question can be answered, the saga continues.

AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said on Tuesday night the anti-obesity drug AOD-9604 is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

That’s the drug Essendon captain Jobe Watson has publicly admitted taking last year – when he won the the AFL’s biggest individual accolade, the Brownlow medal.

So what’s next? Who will answer the big question?

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It’s not going to willingly come from the mouth of Stephen Dank, the sports scientist behind Essendon’s ill-conceived supplements program.

Dank “has a lot to answer for”, Demetriou said when announcing Essendon’s unprecedented punishments.

But who is going to ask him the question?

The AFL has no powers to summon Dank, who has refused requests to be interviewed by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.

Why hasn’t ASADA used its newly-created powers and compelled Dank to talk?

While the AFL’s penalties appear to neatly wrap up much of the controversy, Demetriou’s wish for the code to now move on is fanciful.

“This is without doubt the most significant matter that has come before the commission, perhaps one of the most serious issues that has ever faced the game,” Demetriou said.

“This is the most significant sanction in AFL history.”

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But the most significant question remains: exactly what did Essendon players take?

That proverbial ball is now out of AFL hands and held by ASADA.

Demetriou and AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick both called the Essendon scandal a wake-up call. But the alarm bells are still ringing.

The AFL has answered some questions. But many remain.

– Did Essendon players take banned drugs?
Neither the AFL or Essendon can answer it.

– What does it mean for Saturday night’s game between Essendon and Richmond?
What attitude do the Bombers take? Flat out, in a bid to stick it to the AFL one last time? Or will they really care? Do they turn up just to take their frustrations out on finals-bound Richmond?

– Who will coach Essendon next year?
Mark Thompson doesn’t want to be a head coach again. He’s known to dislike dealing with the media, who will pepper him with peptide questions. But will Essendon officials lean on him to become a stop-gap? Do they trust one of their untried assistants such as Simon Goodwin, who will coach the Bombers on Saturday night, or Sean Wellman? Will a club outsider want to be a glorified seat-warmer until Hird returns after a likely 12-month suspension?

– Can Hird return as coach after serving a ban?
They say a week is a long time in football. Well, how about a year? AFL chief Andrew Demetriou says Hird will be “welcomed back to the AFL family” but can Hird seriously expect to keep pace with the fast-moving industry? Will anyone ever believe in him again?

– Will Essendon players walk out?
Legal experts reckon there is a case: that Essendon’s failure to offer a safe workplace means players can terminate their contracts and walk to rival clubs. But will any other club want them, given they still could be charged with doping offences by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA)?

– What happens to Jobe Watson’s Brownlow medal?
The Essendon captain won it last year. But he’s publicly admitted that he believes he took the anti-obesity drug AOD-9604 – which the World Anti-Doping Agency says is a prohibited substance. If charged by ASADA, does he keep the medal?

– What happens to Stephen Dank?
It beggars belief that Dank, the sports scientist at the heart of the scandal, can refuse ASADA’s interview requests. Why hasn’t ASADA used its newly-created powers and compelled Dank to talk?

– What does it mean for Bruce Reid?
He’s the longest-serving senior doctor in the AFL, been with Essendon since 1982, but is fighting against the charges. His case resumes Thursday but will it impact on his ability to practice medicine? In a field where reputation is everything, and aged 67, is he damaged goods, regardless of the outcome of his case?

– Who leaks from the AFL?
The penalties have been widely reported for weeks. Who, inside the AFL, is the tell-tale?