Essendon Bombers Chairman Paul Little has announced that the club will challenge the legality of the joint AFL/ASADA investigation in Federal Court.
Little said that “The club will contend that the joint investigation was unlawful,” and therefore any results of that investigation will be “null and void.”
The announcement comes after ASADA issued 34 Bombers players, past and present, with show cause notices yesterday.
These notices are the first serious step toward giving players infraction notices for the club’s 2012 supplements program, which ASADA alleges potentially violates the code. The players have 10 days to respond to the show cause notices
Little was very clear in the club’s stance as to how they considered the investigation as it stood.
“The board does not take this decision lightly.”
“Enough is enough,” said Little.
“We will not be bullied and we will not allow our players to be hung out to dry any longer.”
Little said natural justice could not run its course after the investigation.
“We have been left with no other option but to challenge this decision through the courts,” he said.
When quizzed by reporters about why the club didn’t challenge the legality of the investigation, Little said one of the principles they agreed to when they self reported their actions the day before the ‘darkest day in sport’ last year was that they would allow the investigation to run its course.
Little said that the club had no other option now that show cause notices have been handed down.
When asked about the impact on the players, Little said they now had the opportunity to focus on football and allow the club to take the brunt of the focus.
“The players understand the club will take the burden of legal action and the players can concentrate on playing.”
Earlier, ASADA head Ben McDevitt has signalled he is keen to broach the subject of a potential deal with Essendon players, flagging reduced AFL penalties for cooperation.
In interviews, McDevitt said there is scope for reduced time out of the game.
“If a player is found to have no significant fault, which means for example if a player didn’t know what was being administered to them … (it) would mean a reduction of up to 50 per cent of the original penalty,” he said.
“Beyond that, if they have shown that have provided substantial assistance to ASADA, they’ve come forward, they’ve made full admissions, said this is the circumstances, then there is the possibility of a further 75 per cent reduction on the original penalty.”
“You could end up going from two years to 12 months to six months.”
McDevitt hopes the lure of reduced bans could prompt cooperation.
“What I’m encouraging individuals now, and the club, and the AFL, is to have a think about this very carefully and have discussions with us,” McDevitt said.
“I would like to talk this through … and see where this might end up.”
McDevitt said he had not spoken to the Bombers since he became ASADA chief executive a month ago.
“I haven’t … I was in a potential conflict of interest situation. I was assessing the (Essendon investigation) material and it would have been highly inappropriate of me,” he said.
Speaking later on Friday, McDevitt said he had legal advice suggesting the joint AFL-ASADA investigation was above board.
He also refused to rule out the possibility of other non-players, including sport scientist Stephen Dank, bring drawn into the investigation.
Following the issuing of notices, the next step in the process is to have cases tested by the independent Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel (ADRVP).
If the ADRVP decides someone has potentially committed an anti-doping rule violation, this will lead to an infraction notice.
It will then fall to the AFL Tribunal to hear cases and issue bans.
ASADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) can also appeal against the tribunal findings.
There are fears the process could take years to resolve.
McDevitt said his decision to issue notices was based on a considerable body of evidence collected in the investigation.
He also told ABC radio: “I am satisfied that a potential violation or possible violation of our anti-doping code has occurred.
Little slammed McDevitt, claiming the ASADA head had engaged in a “media roadshow” but did not respond to approaches from Little and the club.
McDevitt said he had not spoken to the Bombers before the issuing of notices as it would have been improper.
“I was in a potential conflict of interest situation. I was assessing the (Essendon investigation) material and it would have been highly inappropriate of me,” he said.
Earlier on Friday, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said the show cause notices were only allegations and the first stage of the process.
“It’s essentially a proposition, an allegation to which they have to respond,” he said.
“It’s just the start of a long process, it’s not an indication of guilt.”
The matter will go before the Federal Court in Melbourne in two weeks.