The slogan for Essendon’s 2013 campaign was “Whatever it Takes”.
It is now the club’s mantra as it attempts to clear its name in regard to ASADA’s allegation that 34 of its players were administered a banned substance in 2012.
Essendon president Paul Little stated this afternoon that the club has launched a Federal Court challenge to the joint venture investigation of the club and its players.
He maintains that the ASADA-AFL probe was flawed from the outset and that is now the basis of the club’s defence of its players.
Why the club did not launch legal action initially when the joint investigation was first undertaken, or even in August when it was hit with significant sanctions by the AFL, remains largely unanswered.
It raises the question whether the club would have been so vehemently and publicly opposed to the process had show cause letters not been issued, which it had repeatedly insisted would be the case.
One thing that was extremely evident during Little’s address to the media was his total dissatisfaction with ASADA. But he skirted around whether he held that same contempt for the entire investigation process, as he and his board sees it, on the part of the AFL.
In the end it was a joint venture investigation, yet the ire of the Essendon Football Club seems almost solely directed at ASADA.
The role of the ASADA CEO – of which there have been two during the investigation period – was highly criticised by Little. But no mention was made likewise with regard to AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou who was in charge of the league’s side of the investigation until the 11th hour, or his number two, Gillon McLachlan, now in the top job.
Essendon seems to have largely forgiven the AFL for its involvement while directing all its ire toward ASADA.
Little was at pains to say that neither he nor the club was offering any advice to the players with respect to the ASADA requirement to reply to the show cause letters within ten days of receiving them.
He said it was up to his players to seek that advice from the AFL Players’ Association.
Little did state, however, that the club would “carry the burden of their [the players] legal action”.
Essendon will have been advised that it has extremely strong legal grounds to launch its Federal Court challenge.
The action may prove successful and the entire probe may be ruled invalid. Allied to that, should it be the case, the club will petition the court to effectively seal any evidence that was garnered and rule that none of it be used in any subsequent actions.
If the club has its challenge granted the players may well dodge a bullet.
In the words of Ziggy Switkowski, who was engaged by the football club to investigate its own practices, they were “a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented”.
While the club has stated categorically that none of its players ever received any banned substances it has also equally been unable to tell them, or the public at large, just what it was they were administered.
In many ways the lack of proper reporting and documentation – as highlighted in the Switkowski report – may have been a plus for the players the same mismanagement massively contributed to the club losing its coach for a year, draft picks and a $2m fine.
In the end the truth of what actually occurred under James Hird and Steven Dank’s watch may never be known.
What ramifications the Federal Court determination has on the future workings of ASADA also remains to be seen.
However, regardless of what those deliberations may conclude, it is hoped that every sporting organisation in Australia will have learned from the Essendon experience.
And beyond that ASADA as well.