31 March 2015

AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal clears 34 players of doping

The Australian Football League’s (AFL) Anti-Doping Tribunal has found that it is not satisfied that 34 current and former Essendon players were administered Thymosin Beta-4 during the 2012 season. ‘The Tribunal was comfortably satisfied that the substance Thymosin Beta-4 was at the relevant time a prohibited substance under the Code’, read a 31 March Anti-Doping Tribunal statement. ‘The Tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that any player was administered Thymosin Beta-4. The Tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that any player violated clause 11.2 of the AFL Anti-Doping Code’.

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) will be holding a media conference tomorrow, where it is expected that it will announce an appeal against the decision. WADA has said that it will wait for ASADA’s decision before deciding if it will join the appeal. It began an investigation in 2013 into supplement use at the club during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, leading to the AFL suspending the players during November 2014. “What happened at Essendon in 2012 was, in my opinion, absolutely and utterly disgraceful”, said ASADA CEO, Ben McDevitt in a statement. “It was not a supplements programme but an injection regime and the players and the fans were so poorly let down by the club. While I am obviously disappointed that the charges in this instance have not been proven to the comfortable satisfaction of the tribunal, I am pleased that the tribunal was able to finally hear these matters.”

The AFL said that it was still reviewing the Anti-Doping Tribunal’s decision, and reiterated in a statement that ASADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have a right to appeal the decision. It said that the Anti-Doping Tribunal is still completing its decision in relation to Stephen Dank, a sports scientist who managed the supplements programme at Essendon during the season in question – a decision is due after Easter.

The AFL statement pointed out that in 2013, Essendon had accepted that it had ‘engaged in practices that exposed players to risks to their health and safety, as well as the unacceptable risk of using substances that were prohibited by the AFL Anti-doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code’. Sanctions accepted by the club in 2013 included being removed from the finals series, a A$2 million (€1.42 million) fine, loss of draft picks, a 12-month suspension fro the senior Coach and fines for club personnel.

‘The AFL Players’ Association welcomes today’s tribunal decision’, read a AFLPA statement. ‘We have always been of the view that these players have done nothing wrong and this has been confirmed by the Tribunal today. This decision does not absolve the Essendon Football Club of blame. Players were placed in an unacceptable position that put their health and careers at risk.’

Essendon Head Coach James Hird said that the finding had vindicated the players. “We always believed that the players were innocent from day one”, he said in a statement. “The players and the clubs position – the original position that they haven’t taken anything outside of the WADA code, has been vindicated.”

On 30 January this year, the Australian Federal Court dismissed Hird’s challenge against the lawfulness of the ASADA investigation. Hird had argued that the investigation, in which ASADA and the AFL cooperated closely, was not authorised by the ASADA Act, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Regulations and the NAD Scheme.

Hird alleged that ASADA had illegally used the AFL’s contractual powers to force Essendon players to attend interviews with ASADA, and that a contractual agreement with the AFL to answer questions had been used by ASADA to force the players to answer questions. The Federal Court held that this was within the cooperative powers envisaged within Australian anti-doping legislation.

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