It is approaching one year since the Essendon Football Club accepted unprecedented sanctions as a result of the supplements saga.
The official violation was ‘disrepute’. The subject was governance.
The AFL’s case had more holes than fine flywire, but that was of little consequence. It was never the reason for the sanctions, and in any case proving the charge was unnecessary.
Instead, the club was forced to submit by a vicious media campaign, largely devoid of facts, waged by the AFL itself and aided and abetted by the AFL’s ‘communications specialists’. Not even the AFL has the gall to call them journalists.
Essendon accepted an early plea on the provisor that players would not face further sanctions. And well they shouldn’t, they have served their time.
The plea bargain entailed Essendon relinquishing the finals appearance they had rightfully earned.
Meanwhile, Carlton inherited the final place in the 8 with only 11 victories and an inferior percentage to Essendon who had posted 14 wins for the season. For the arithmetic to hold, Essendon were effectively stripped of 4 wins.
A count back of the season reveals that Essendon had reached 10 wins by round 14, on June 27.
The plea bargain equated to the club sacrificing the final 9 rounds of the season, and a finals campaign. Essentially half a season.
Alternatively, the punishment could be viewed in time. A six month period from June 27 would have extended through the 2013 season, into the finals, and concluded during summer training.
The players – those described by the AFL and their ‘communicators’ as ‘the innocent victims’ who were undeserving of punishment – were given their six months, an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) ban in all but name.
The imposed sanctions were premature and without due process, but the club accepted responsibility and the maximum possible punishment for the players reduced level of fault. They did so, despite their belief in their innocence, to finally bring the sorry saga to an end. They should have been free to resume football in 2014 with this entire fiasco behind them.
Unfortunately, the bargain was worthless.
Cracks began to appear in early 2014 when ASADA refused calls from Essendon and the AFL.
The worrying developments were reported in the media at the time.
‘The AFL fears it has lost control of the investigation’, relayed one of the league’s key propagandists, Caroline Wilson.
What she, her peers, and indeed the AFL had failed to realise up until that point was that they never had control. It was always beyond their powers. The AFL is charged with issuing bans, but not in secrecy while the players were exploited in a cruel drawn-out charade to fulfil broadcast contracts. The plan was doomed from the start.
Their entire campaign had been futile. Strategic leaks, half truths and outright lies. Illogical and incoherent arguments drummed into the public psyche like mantras. Hypocritical and amoral moralising over imagined health threats. Falsified evidence and an embellished charge sheet illegally derived from an already compromised document. And the eventual sealer, a crying woman pretending to be the mother of one of those poor innocent children who, judging by the hysterical reporting at the time, must certainly be in the final stages of cancer by now.
The vile campaign achieved its goal: a coerced, but timely, submission. The reputations of the Essendon Football Club and its officials were acceptable casualties in the grand scheme.
But the damage this campaign caused was for nothing.
The AFL believed its own hype. It thought it was invincible. It thought it was above the law. It thought it could bully ASADA as it has become accustomed to doing with clubs and individuals within its own ranks.
ASADA continued the investigation and subsequently offered the players additional six month bans for their alleged supplement use, because according to the AFL’s political face saving measures they had officially escaped sanction.
Understandably Essendon objected, and the case is currently being considered by Justice John Middleton with a verdict not expected until well after the conclusion of the season.
Regardless of the court’s decision, ASADA have vowed to reissue show cause notices to 34 current and former Essendon players.
If ASADA are true to their word and they can produce the evidence to sustain an ADRV, it is time for the AFL to accept ownership its orchestration.
It is time to concede the original charge of ‘disrepute’ for imagined governance issues was nothing but an elaborate rouse to avoid saying something damaging to their brand.
This is the AFL’s modus operandi.
Melbourne were punished for tanking, the AFL just didn’t admit it. It would have been embarrassing given their endless denials and failure to address the problem. Other culprits were ignored.
Likewise, Essendon players were punished for peptide use, albeit prematurely and without proof or due process. But, again, the AFL didn’t admit it.
This saga was another AFL exercise in optics and it has backfired spectacularly.
The AFL’s intent to corrupt the investigation and manipulate a predetermined outcome has been exposed via documents and under-oath testimony in the Federal Court. The extent of corruption must surely end careers.
Their collaborators in the government and ASADA have been made to look the fool on an international stage. Many have been moved on, internally or by public vote.
And those poor innocent players the AFL and their ‘communicators’ disingenuously claim to care about have incurred the maximum penalty; endured another full season of emotional turmoil, media scrutiny and speculation; been drawn into a court case; and they now face the real possibility of receiving a second punishment over the same matter.
All of this to preserve the AFL’s image. It couldn’t have been handled worse.
Actually, it could have.
This entire debacle has been predicated on the assumption that the players were guilty of a doping offence. If that assumption proves untrue, this self-immolation and its extensive collateral damage was to obscure nothing.