6th December 2016

Campaign alleges flaws in judgement against Essendon players

A campaign seeking justice for the 34 Essendon players issued with backdated two-year bans has issued a video recorded by Dr. Kim Sawyer of the University of Melbourne, highlighting a number of alleged flaws in the decision to sanction the players. The players were initially cleared by the AFL in March 2015, however were issued with bans – all of which expire by February 2017 – following an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) provided evidence for.

None of the players have reported a positive doping test. The CAS award discounts WADA’s attempts to show the presence of Thymosin Beta-4 in a 2012 sample taken from an Essendon player. ‘Neither the statistics or the science could, in the Panel’s view, inculpate any of the players’, read its 48-page judgment.

However, the CAS Panel found that the circumstantial evidence was enough for it to be ‘comfortably satisfied that all players violated clause 11.2 of the 2010 AFL Anti-Doping Code and were significantly at fault in so doing’. This is in stark contrast to the 31 March AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal decision, which read: ‘‘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 CAS ruled that the evidence regarding the supplements programme carried out at Essendon during the 2011 and 2012 seasons was persuasive enough to issue sanctions against the 34 players. This finding appears to be due to the 34 players signing consent forms regarding the administration of substances via injection.

‘On 12 February 2012, the Essendon players attended a meeting a the club auditorium’, read the CAS ruling. ‘Either at the meeting or shortly thereafter, the vast majority of players signed “patient information/informed consent” forms in which they consented to the administration of four substances including AOD-9064 and “Thymosin” by way of injections. It was asserted in the form that the proposed treatment was WADA compliant.’ ASADA argues that none of the players declared the injections during 30 testing missions.

In the video (below), Dr. Sawyer refers to a July 2012 email in which ASADA asks WADA if it has considered the prohibited status of thymomodulin. ‘The List Committee discussed thymosin beta-4 and considered it prohibited under S2.5’, reads WADA’s response. ‘It is not clear what type of thymosin thymomodulin is. Thymosin alpha is an immunomodulator and unrelated to thymosin beta-4.’

Dr. Sawyer argues that whilst there is evidence that thymomodulin was administered by Dr. Stephen Dank at Essendon, “there is no evidence whatsoever of thymosin beta-4 at Essendon”. He alleges that text messages from 2012 showing that Dank had used thymomodulin during a previous supplement programme at Melbourne FC were not produced at AFL and CAS hearings. He alleges that:

• Dank knew that thymomodulin was working so had no motive to switch;
• ASADA and WADA had concerns about whether thymomodulin was prohibited; and
• evidence confirming that Dank was using thymomodulin rather than thymosin beta-4 may have compromised the case against him and the players.

The Justice for 34 campaign is seeking to petition Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, for a Senate Inquiry in order to investigate the situation. Any such inquiry should ‘consider all the relevant facts so they are publically available’, reads its petition. ‘To date, the evidence against the players has been based on taking “bits out that might compromise what we need”’. It follows a call by Senator John Madigan for such an inquiry, as well as the release of three documents understood to be key to the case.

The documents Madigan seeks to make public are:

• The 4 March 2014 final report of ASADA investigator Aaron Walker upon the conclusion of Operation Cobia (the ASADA investigation into the Essendon Football Club’s player supplements program during the 2012 AFL season);
• The independent review of Operation Cobia by former Federal Court Judge Garry Downes, as commissioned by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Minister for Sport, Peter Dutton; and
• The complete, non-public, unabridged and un-redacted final report of the Australian Crime Commission 2012-2013 special intelligence operation (Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport) known as Project Aperio (the so-called ‘public report’ of which was released on the supposed ‘blackest day in Australian sport’, 7 February 2013).

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