Essendon Football Club supplements controversy

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The Essendon Football Club supplements controversy is an ongoing sports controversy which began in 2011. The Essendon Football Club, a professional Australian rules football club playing in the Australian Football League (AFL), has been investigated since February 2013 by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) over the legality of its supplements program during the 2012 AFL season and the preceding preseason.

The initial stages of the investigation in 2013 made no findings regarding the legality of the supplements program, but highlighted a wide range of governance and duty-of-care failures relating to the program. In August 2013, the AFL fined Essendon $2,000,000, revoked its opportunity to play in the 2013 finals series, and suspended senior coach James Hird and general manager Danny Corcoran as a result of these findings.

The second phase of the investigation resulted in thirty-four players being issued show cause notices by ASADA and infraction notices by the AFL, alleging the use of the banned peptide Thymosin beta-4 during the 2012 season; the players' AFL Tribunal hearing on these charges is ongoing as of 13 February 2015.

The controversy has had serious ramifications and adverse effects on the football club as a whole. A number of senior staff have either been dismissed or have resigned. Senior staff no longer at the club due to the controversy include David Evans (former chairman), Ian Robson (former CEO), Danny Corcoran (former head of football), Dean Robinson (former head of high performance) and Stephen Dank (former contracted biochemist and sports scientist).


In 2013 the Essendon Football Club was implicated in the Australian Crime Commission (ACC)'s report "Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport". The club conducted its own investigation into allegations of peptide use but also awaited findings from Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA)'s investigation.[1]

Following the release of the ACC report on 3 February 2013 the club's then chairman, David Evans, commissioned Ziggy Switkowski to conduct an independent report that he described as a "full external and independent review of governance and processes of the club".[2] On 23 May 2013, the club's CEO, Ian Robson, resigned and agreed with the Switkowski report's assessment that "lack of proper process" occurred in 2012.[3] In late July, club chairman Evans and fitness coach Dean Robinson both resigned, with the former stating, "I strongly believe that the best thing for the club at this stage is for a new chairperson in order to see through the next phase of this challenging and difficult time for our club."[4]

Timeline of events[edit]

  • 5 February 2013: The Essendon Football Club asks ASADA to investigate concerns over the club's possible use of prohibited supplements during the 2012 season.[5]
  • 7 February 2013: Federal ministers Jason Clare (Minister for Justice) and Kate Lundy (Minister for Sport) announce that the Australian Crime Commission had released the findings of a 12-month investigation into the integrity of Australian sport and the relationship between professional sporting bodies, prohibited substances and organised crime. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) officially initiates action to investigate illegal substance use in the AFL and NRL.[6]
  • 7 February 2013: Essendon removed banners and murals from the façade at Windy Hill bearing the words "whatever it takes", which was the slogan of the club's membership drive, because the phrase now carried connotations of culpability in light of the investigation.[7] The club has never since been able to distance itself the bad publicity associated with the slogan, which remains synonymous with negative effect that the investigation has had on the club's reputation.[8]
  • 27 February 2013: The Essendon Football Club announces an independent review to be conducted by former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski into the club's governance of its supplements program.[9]
  • 6 May 2013: The independent review into Essendon's alleged use of prohibited substances is released to the public.[10]
  • 23 May 2013: Ian Robson stands down as CEO of the Essendon Football Club.[9][11]
  • 24 June 2013: Essendon captain Jobe Watson admits on the TV show On the Couch that he believed he was given the substance AOD-9604 during the 2012 season with the assistance of his club.[12]
  • 12 July 2013: ABC sports commentator Gerard Whateley suggests that Essendon players will not be sanctioned for the use of the prohibited drug AOD-9604 because Essendon says that the drug was not banned in 2012.[9][13]
  • 27 July 2013: David Evans stands down as chairman of the Essendon Football Club, amid speculation of a fallout with coach James Hird.[14]
  • 31 July 2013: In a Seven News television special hosted by AFL commentator Luke Darcy, sacked high performance manager Dean Robinson accuses James Hird of masterminding the club's supplements program in 2012 and says that the club allowed him to operate the football club the way he wanted when he was appointed as head coach prior to the 2011 season.[15][16]
  • 2 August 2013: ASADA releases its interim report on Essendon's supplements program to the AFL.[17]
  • 13 August 2013: The AFL announces that the Essendon Football Club, senior coach James Hird and other parties are to be charged over the club's supplements program, with a hearing set for 26 August.[18]
  • 21 August 2013: The AFL releases a full statement of charges against Essendon.
  • 22 August 2013: James Hird lodges an action with the Supreme Court of Victoria, saying that he has been denied natural justice.[19] On the same day, the AFL holds an emergency meeting with all the club presidents explaining what is happening and how it will affect the league.
  • 26 August 2013: Talks begin between the AFL and the accused parties (James Hird, Mark Thompson, Bruce Reid and Danny Corcoran) at AFL House. However, after more than 13 hours, neither the AFL nor the accused are able to come to an agreement regarding how Essendon should be charged for the supplements program.[20]
  • 27 August 2013: Talks between the AFL and the accused parties resume,[21] after which, following another long day of discussions, the AFL announces that the Essendon Football Club will be sanctioned for its supplements program during the 2011 and 2012 AFL seasons. Penalties for the club include being ruled ineligible to play in the 2013 AFL finals series, loss of first and second round draft picks in the 2013 and 2014 AFL Drafts, and receiving an Australian sporting record $2 million fine. Penalties for individuals include suspensions for both senior coach James Hird (12 months, backdated to 25 August 2013) and football operations manager Danny Corcoran (four months, starting 1 October 2013, and a further two months withheld) and a $30,000 fine for assistant coach Mark Thompson.
  • 15 May 2014: The Victorian WorkCover Authority announces that it has launched a separate investigation into the matter.[22]
  • 12 June 2014: ASADA issues show cause notices to 34 players on Essendon's 2012 player list. If found guilty, the players face infraction notices (sporting sanctions). These have, as a starting point, a two-year suspension, although players that demonstrate they were unwittingly given a prohibited substance may receive a 50 per cent reduction on their penalty.[23][24]
  • 13 June 2014: Essendon chairman Paul Little announces that club executives have launched a Federal Court application "challenging the legality of the AFL/ASADA joint investigative process".[23] Suspended coach James Hird immediately announces he is launching his own, simultaneous legal challenge as to legality of the ASADA investigation of the club.[25]
  • 19 September 2014: Justice John Middleton rules that ASADA's investigation is lawful, allowing ASADA to trigger the start of the show-cause response period, which gives charged players 14 days to answer doping allegations against them.[26] Essendon is required to pay ASADA's costs of around $1 million.
  • 1 October 2014: Essendon elects not to appeal the Justice Middleton's ruling; but Hird, acting in an individual capacity, announced that he intends to appeal.[27]
  • 17 October 2014: ASADA issued fresh show cause notices to the thirty-four players. The players were given a two-week deadline to respond before ASADA presents its evidence to the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel,[28] but elected not to respond.[29]
  • 31 October 2014: the deadline for Mark Thompson to pay the $30,000 fine he was issued following the interim report passed without Thompson having paid the fine. The AFL later extended the deadline to 20 November 2014.[30]
  • 10-11 November 2014: Hird returned to the Federal Court to appeal Justice Middleton's decision that the AFL-ASADA joint investigation was legal. The hearing concluded on 11 November.[31]
  • 12 November 2014: Mark Thompson left the Essendon Football Club.[32]
  • 13 November 2014: following the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel concluding that sufficient evidence existed against the players, it was announced that the thirty-four players were placed on the register of findings.[33]
  • 14 November 2014: the AFL issued infraction notices to the thirty-four players, alleging that they used prohibited peptide Thymosin beta-4. The players were provisionally suspended until their AFL Tribunal hearing.[29]
  • December 2014 – February 2015: the tribunal hearing for the thirty-four players took place over several sessions.[34]
  • 29 January 2015: The Federal Court dismissed James Hird's appeal against the legality of the ASADA investigation.[35]
  • 13 February 2015: Arrangements were made between Essendon and the AFL for Essendon to have access to top-up players from the state leagues to enable the club to field a fill team during the pre-season competition (during which the thirty-four players will still be serving provisional suspensions) and if necessary into the premiership season.[36]

Interim report[edit]

On 2 August 2013, ASADA released an interim report to the AFL and Essendon Football Club; the interim report made no findings regarding the legality of the supplements program, but highlighted a wide range of governance and duty-of-care failures relating to the program. On the evening of 13 August 2013, on the basis of the interim report, AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon charged Essendon with: "conduct that is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute" under AFL Rule 1.6". The charges against Essendon included:[37]

  • having "engaged in practices that exposed players to significant risks to their health and safety as well as the risk of using substances that were prohibited by the AFL Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code";
  • allowing "a culture of frequent, uninformed and unregulated use of the injection of supplements" at the club;
  • had "failed to meaningfully inform players of the substances the subject of the program and obtain their informed consent to the administration of the substances"
  • having an incomplete system of record keeping which had made it impossible to determine with certainty whether or not players had been administered banned supplements
  • the bypassing of human resources practices relating specifically to the employment of high performance coach Dean Robinson and sports scientist Stephen Dank.

The interim report found that Essendon had commenced its supplements program in August 2011, had intended for it to be an innovative program of unprecedented scale to deliver a competitive edge to the club, but that it had not done adequate research nor established clear lines of accountability for the people implementing the program.[37] The AFL laid charges against the Essendon Football Club, head coach James Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, club doctor Bruce Reid and sports administrator Danny Corcoran.

On 27 August 2013, five days before Round 23 and after two days of discussions between the club and the league, the following penalties were imposed relating to these charges:

  • Essendon was fined $2 million (staggered over three years). This was the largest fine imposed on a club in the history of Australian sport.
  • Essendon was ruled ineligible to participate in the 2013 AFL finals series, which was achieved by relegating it from seventh to ninth position on the ladder.
  • Essendon was stripped of draft picks in the following two drafts. In 2013, its first and second round draft picks were stripped; in 2014, it was stripped of the first and second round draft picks it would have received based on its finishing position, but was granted the last draft pick in the first round.
  • Senior coach James Hird was suspended from involvement in any football club for twelve months, effective 25 August 2013.
  • Football operations manager Danny Corcoran was suspended from involvement in any football club for four months, with a further two-month suspended sentence, effective 1 October 2013.
  • Senior assistant coach Mark Thompson was fined $30,000.[38] Ultimately, Thompson personally paid $5,000 of the fine, with Essendon covering the balance.[39]

The fourth senior staff member charged at this time was club doctor Bruce Reid. Reid contested the charges against him and on 29 August 2013, counsel for Reid applied for a "prompt release of the transcript of argument and the commissioners' ruling, to enable the early issue of Supreme Court proceedings". He said Reid would apply for a judicial review of the decision and had identified a recently retired Supreme Court judge as an appropriate officer to preside over a decision in relation to the charges. Reid's lawyer, Perry Maddocks, informed the media that "Reid is adamant that he is innocent and wishes to defend the allegations against him in a public hearing."[40]

At the time of this announcement, no charges were laid against any players, and whether banned substances had been used was unproven. As of 13 August 2013, the ASADA and AFL investigation remained open and further charges against individual players remained a possibility.[41] As long as the ASADA investigation remains open it is possible that other sanctions may be made against players and officials. Shortly after the announcement of the sanctions against the club, the AFL's deputy chief executive, Gillon McLachlan, stated:

We can't control where ASADA goes. I think there would have to be definitive new evidence for them to issue infraction notices, but I don't want to speak on their behalf. Ultimately, ASADA have a power, I just think what's important for everyone to understand here is that there is not one scintilla of evidence that said the players had any knowledge of what was going on here, and that's incredibly important to remember.[42]

On 28 August 2013, Hird conceded to the media, "I should have done more, and I am very disappointed that I didn't."[42] Despite the connections between Essendon's AFL and VFL teams, an AFL notification to AFL Victoria confirmed that the VFL team were still permitted to play in the VFL finals series.[43]

A media report published on 13 September 2013 stated that the AFL sought to cease any further investigations into the conduct of Reid "to avoid answering allegations of bias about its handing of the supplement scandal," suggesting that a settlement offer from the AFL to the football club's president would clear the doctor of all charges and result in no penalty.[44] However, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou denied the existence of any settlement on the same date and explained that Reid's legal team had requested an open hearing to settle the matter. Demetriou stated: "They [Dr Reid's legal team] have made that very clear. And there is nothing that has been said to me in the past few days that has changed any of that view."[45]

On 18 September 2013, the AFL dropped all charges against Reid, thus allowing him to continue in his role as senior medical officer at the club. The league's official statement concluded:

Reid strongly supports the AFL in its fundamental priority of looking after the health and welfare of players. He shares its concern over the serious circumstances which gave rise to the supplements saga at the Essendon Football Club ... The AFL accepts Dr Reid’s position and withdraws all charges against him, without penalty.[46]

A media report on 3 October 2013 revealed that Hird denied pleading guilty for a reduced charge, as alleged by Demetriou. Hird's lawyer, Steven Amendola, asserted that the AFL withdrew all charges against Hird under the deeds of settlement that he and the club signed with the AFL. At the time of the media report, Hird was considering legal action against both the AFL and Demetriou.[47]

Federal court application[edit]

Both the Essendon Football Club's and James Hird's challenge as to the legal validity of ASADA's joint investigation with the AFL came before the Melbourne division of the Federal Court on 27 June 2014.[25][48] The names of the 34 Essendon players issued with show cause notices were suppressed under court order.[nb 1] The players were not required to respond to ASADA's show cause notices until the case is resolved.

On 19 September 2014, Justice John Middleton of the Federal Court found that the ASADA investigation was lawful under the ASADA Act and that Essendon's application for the show cause notices to be scrapped was rejected.[49] Essendon has until 10 October to decide whether or not to lodge an appeal against Justice Middleton's judgement. If Essendon elects not to appeal, ASADA will re-issue show cause notices to the 34 players, who will have 10 days to respond.[50]

On 1 October 2014, Essendon chairman Paul Little announced that the club would not appeal the Federal Court's ruling, stating that to do so would act against the interests of the players. Hird, however, acting in an individual capacity and "on a matter of principle", appealed the ruling to a full bench of the Federal Court. Media commentators speculated that Hird's action would result in his termination as Essendon coach,[51] but this did not occur.[52] Hird returned to court in early November 2014,[31] and his appeal was dismissed on 29 January 2015.[35] Hird considered a High Court appeal, but on 27 February 2015 announced that he had decided against proceeding.[53]

Hearing against players[edit]

After Essendon's Federal Court challenge was dismissed in October 2014, ASADA issued fresh show-cause notices to the thirty-four players on 17 October 2014.[54] The players had two weeks to respond to the notices, and exercised their right not to respond. On 13 November 2014, the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel concluding that sufficient evidence existed against the players, and it was announced that the thirty-four players were placed on the register of findings.[55] The following day, the AFL issued infraction notices to the thirty-four players, specifically alleging that they used prohibited peptide Thymosin beta-4.[29] The players faced a closed hearing of the AFL Tribunal over several sessions between December 2014 and February 2015; the outcome of the Tribunal hearing is yet to be announced.[56]

Upon issuing of the infractions notices on November 14, the thirty-four players were able to accept provisional suspensions, meaning they would be ineligible to play AFL matches until the Tribunal hearing was finalised, but that any time served during the provisional suspension would be counted as part of the final suspension if found guilty. The players accepted the provisional suspensions immediately with two possible exceptions: Dustin Fletcher and Jobe Watson (who were on Essendon's list during the time of the supplements program but have not been confirmed as being among the 34 players) who both participated in the 2014 international rules test on 22 November.[57]

After the tribunal hearings were completed, it was announced that a final decision was expected in late March. This meant that the thirty-four players, including as many as eighteen who were still at Essendon, would still be under provisional suspension during the NAB Challenge pre-season competition. It was determined that all twenty-six Essendon players who were at the club during the supplements program would miss the series, including players who were not facing doping charges but were given permission to stand aside to protect their teammates' anonymity. [58] In order to have sufficient players to field a full team, Essendon was given permission to sign players from state leagues to temporary contracts to serve as top-up players: under the rules, the players must have been on an AFL list in either 2013 or 2014, and the club could recruit no more than two players from any state league club; if necessary, the same concession will be carried forward into any portion of the premiership season for which thirty-four players are suspended.[59] The club's seven NAB Challenge top-up players who met these criteria were: Mitch Brown, Mitch Clisby, Clint Jones, James Magner, Sam Michael, Jared Petrenko and James Polkinghorne.[60] The club was also permitted to field VFL-listed players from its own reserves team in the NAB Challenge, fielding Josh Freezer, Aaron Heppell, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwati, Marcus Marigliani, Jordan Schroder and Sam Tagliabue.[61]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The 34 (Essendon) Players: Pursuant to s.37AF of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976, the Player Names Document is marked confidential and prohibited from publication until further order (this order is made to prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice, the Court having directed of its own motion the list of names be provided to the Court on the basis that they will be prohibited from publication). (Source: Federal Court of Australia - Order - VID327/2014)


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  3. ^ Brodie, Will; Niall, Jake (23 May 2013). "Robson quits Essendon". The Age. Retrieved 16 August 2013. 
  4. ^ "Essendon chairman David Evans quits". The Australian. 27 July 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013. 
  5. ^ Bowen, Nick. "Dons in ASADA probe". Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  6. ^ Lundy, Katek. "Drugs in Australian sport findings". Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  7. ^ Wilson, Caroline (8 February 2013). "War on sports scientists". Newcastle Herald (Newcastle, NSW). Retrieved 15 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Gullan, Scott (13 November 2014). "Bombers saga sparks apparel business". Herald Sun (Melbourne, VIC). Retrieved 15 November 2014. 
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  11. ^ Essendon CEO Ian Robson quits embattled AFL club, The Australian, 23 May 2013
  12. ^ I took banned drug: Watson
  13. ^ Doping: AFL chief Andrew Demetriou says status of drug AOD-9604 remains uncertain, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 12 July 2013
  14. ^ Essendon chairman David Evans stands down amid speculation of fallout with coach James Hird,, 27 July 2013
  15. ^ James Hird dismisses claims he sought undetectable testosterone cream, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 1 August 2013.
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  17. ^ "ASADA report has landed", The Age.
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  35. ^ a b Chip le Grand (30 January 2015). "Essendon supplements saga: James Hird loses court appeal". The Australian (Melbourne, VIC). Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
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  47. ^ Shand, Adam (3 October 2013). "James Hird eyes action over Andrew Demetriou guilt claim". The Australian. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  48. ^ Essendon Football Club v The Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (Federal Court of Australia)
  49. ^ Federal Court decision finds in favour of ASADA.
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  51. ^ Hird facing the axe at Thursday board meeting
  52. ^ 'Nothing to announce': Bombers to wait on Hird call, official website, 2 October 2014
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  61. ^ Sam Edmund (4 March 2015). "Paul Chapman to lead ‘top-up’ Essendon team in NAB Challenge clash against St Kilda in Morwell". Herald Sun (Melbourne, VIC). Retrieved 4 March 2015. 

External links[edit]