Essendon Football Club supplements controversy
The process, which as of August 2014 is still ongoing, 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, matches have been played at a sub-par standard as players have been physically, emotionally and socially affected, the club's opportunity to play in the 2013 finals series was revoked and three senior club members, James Hird (senior coach), Danny Corcoran (general manager - football) and Bruce Reid (senior club doctor / physician), received penalties and suspensions.
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).
James Hird has served his suspension, which expired on 25 August 2014 at 2:00am, during which he studied overseas before returning to Australia on 22 July 2014, whilst the AFL withdrew all charges against Bruce Reid.
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.
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". 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. 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."
Timeline of events
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 6 May 2013: The independent review into Essendon's alleged use of prohibited substances is released to the public.
- 23 May 2013: Ian Robson stands down as CEO of the Essendon Football Club.
- 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 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.
- 27 July 2013: David Evans stands down as chairman of the Essendon Football Club, amid speculation of a fallout with coach James Hird.
- 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.
- 2 August 2013: ASADA releases its interim report on Essendon's supplements program to the AFL.
- 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.
- 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. 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 its supplements program.
- 27 August 2013: Talks between the AFL and the accused parties resume, 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.
- 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.
- 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". Suspended coach James Hird immediately announces he is launching his own, simultaneous legal challenge as to legality of the ASADA investigation of the club.
After ASADA released an interim report to both the AFL and Essendon Football Club, the AFL charged the Essendon Football Club, head coach James Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, club doctor Bruce Reid and sports administrator Danny Corcoran. On the evening of 13 August 2013, AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon announced the charges: "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 specifically related to poor business practices within the program, including allowing "a culture of frequent, uninformed and unregulated use of the injection of supplements" at the club, incomplete record keeping which had made it impossible to determine with certainty whether players had been administered banned supplements, and failing to guarantee the health and safety of the players in its program.
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.
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."
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. 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.
On 28 August 2013, Hird conceded to the media, "I should have done more, and I am very disappointed that I didn't." 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.
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. However, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou denied the existence of any settlement on the same date and explained that Dr 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."
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.
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.
Federal court application
Both the Essendon Football Club's and James Hird's challenge as to the legal validity of ASADA's joint investigation with the AFL was due to come before the Melbourne division of the Federal Court on 27 June 2014. The case is currently ongoing with the names of the 34 Essendon players issued with show cause notices suppressed under court order.[nb 1] The players are not required to respond to ASADA's show cause notices until the case is resolved.
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- 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)
- James Hird back in Australia, The Age, 22 July 2014
- "Essendon drugs scandal: The story so far". The Herald Sun. 14 August 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- Samantha Lane (2 May 2013). "Dank not interviewed for Switkowski report into Bombers". The Age. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- Will Brodie; Jake Niall (23 May 2013). "Robson quits Essendon". The Age. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- "Essendon chairman David Evans quits". The Australian. 27 July 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- Bowen, Nick. "Dons in ASADA probe". AFL.com.au. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
- Lundy, Katek. "Drugs in Australian sport findings". KateLundy.com.au. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
- Essendon doping saga: Questions and key dates surrounding the ASADA investigation, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 26 July 2013
- "Dr. Ziggy Switkowski report". essendonfc.com.au. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
- Essendon CEO Ian Robson quits embattled AFL club, The Australian, 23 May 2013
- I took banned drug: Watson
- Doping: AFL chief Andrew Demetriou says status of drug AOD-9604 remains uncertain, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 12 July 2013
- Essendon chairman David Evans stands down amid speculation of fallout with coach James Hird, News.com.au, 27 July 2013
- James Hird dismisses claims he sought undetectable testosterone cream, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 1 August 2013.
- James Hird drove Essendon's controversial supplements regimen, Dean Robinson alleges, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 1 August 2013.
- "ASADA report has landed", The Age.
- "AFL announces charges against Essendon over ASADA interim report", ABC Grandstand Sport (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 13 August 2013.
- James Hird begins legal action against the AFL for breach of due process following Essendon charges, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 22 August 2013.
- Rolling updates: AFL Commission meets to discuss Dons charges, AFL.com.au, 26 August 2013
- League, Bombers in stalemate, AFL.com.au website, 26 August 2013.
- Essendon investigated by Victorian WorkCover Authority over supplements program that prompted ASADA inquiry, ABC Grandstand Sport (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 15 May 2014
- Staff reports (13 June 2014). "Essendon mounts Federal Court challenge to doping notices issued to 34 past players". ABC News. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
- Chip Le Grand (12 June 2014). "ASADA moves on Bombers players over 2012 supplements allegations". The Australian. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
- Vaughan & McKay (13 June 2014). "Hird takes own legal action against ASADA". Ninemsn. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
- "All the charges against Essendon, James Hird, Mark Thompson and Danny Corcoran". Herald Sun (Melbourne, VIC). 27 August 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
- "Essendon club doctor Bruce Reid wants Supreme Court to rule on case after failing to reach resolution with AFL". News.com.au. News Corp. 29 August 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
- "Essendon, Hird charged with bringing game into disrepute". The Age. 13 August 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- Greg Denham (29 August 2013). "Essendon Bombers brace for more penalties". The Australian. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
- Ben Guthrie (27 August 2013). "Essendon's VFL team free to play finals". AFL. Telstra Big Pond. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
- Chip Le Grand (13 September 2013). "AFL to drop case against Dr Bruce Reid". The Australian. Retrieved 13 September 2013.
- "AFL boss Andrew Demetriou denies deal to settle with Essendon doctor Bruce Reid". ABC News. 13 September 2013. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
- Grant Baker; Michael Warner (19 September 2013). "The AFL has dropped all charges against Bruce Reid". Herald Sun. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
- Adam Shand (3 October 2013). "James Hird eyes action over Andrew Demetriou guilt claim". The Australian. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- Vaughan & McKay (13 June 2014). "Hird takes own legal action against ASADA". Ninemsn. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
- Essendon Football Club v The Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (Federal Court of Australia)
- Timeline: Essendon doping investigation: timeline, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 27 August 2013
- Essendon Bombers out of 2013 AFL finals as James Hird accepts 12-month suspension, ABC Grandstand Sport (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 27 August 2013
- AFL announces Essendon out of this year's finals series, Hird banned and club fined $2 million, Fox Sports Australia, 27 August 2013
- The Essendon supplements saga - a full timeline of quotes, AFL.com.au website, 27 August 2013