Essendon admit major failures but recommends little

Date: May 7, 2013 / Posted by control

The Essendon Football Club has gone public with the findings of the internally launched Ziggy Switkowski Report into the club’s management and administrative protocols. Citing legal reasons, the club has said the document itself cannot be made public.

Club chairman Davis Evans summed up the findings thus – “Problems occurred in selection, recruitment processes, induction processes, management of contractors … in the football department”.

That précis is damning for the football department. It actually points to a systematic failure from key personnel with regard to practices that could still have seismic ramifications for the club.

Yet, as alluded to in the media prior to today’s media conference, no staff will be shown the door as a result of their roles in the fiasco. In other words, those who were ultimately responsible for putting the club through the wringer will be kept in the same positions of trust, a trust that they individually and collectively breached.

The reports states that “a number of management processes broke down, failed or were short-circuited”. The term ‘short-circuited’ is a major concern as it suggests that certain club protocols were in fact worked around.

It was confirmed by Evans that the man everyone truly wants to hear from, the club’s former sports scientist Stephen Dank, was not interviewed during the compilation of the report.

Switkowski noted that “a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment was never adequately controlled or challenged or documented”. That is perhaps the major strike against the club.

Several people within the organization, including coach James Hird, were aware that it was pushing the boundaries, indeed going to what it believed was on the border of legality under the WADA Code.

The report, in fact, stated that the “Football department set a course of pushing things to the legal limit. It is unwise, perhaps reckless, for any club to even approach this ‘line'”.

Such a course however, once it is chosen as the path forward, surely required, if not demanded, the closest possible scrutiny.

The report states that the club was unaware of the use of doctors outside those normally engaged by the club.

One of the major substances under the spotlight with regard to its possible use on the players – anti-obesity drug AOD-9604, a substance banned under the WADA Code – is not mentioned by name anywhere within the report.

The Bombers players will shortly commence their interview process with ASADA as we continue to wait for the ant-doping agency’s ultimate findings. There is little doubt that AOD-9604 will be on the agenda there.

Sport, for quite some time, has been walking a tightrope on the scientific edge. It is a practice that can have extreme consequences if you lose your balance and fall onto the unscrupulous side of the wire. The dangers of illicit sports science practices have been chronicled in myriad reports and articles, and yet, despite the warnings the Essendon Football Club chose to paddle into muddied waters with next to no reconnaissance.

It beggars belief that a club’s administration could task certain contractors with the ultimate well-being of a squad of players and yet fail to oversee the program through due process.

The Switkowski Report was all about defining what shortcomings there were within the club’s management practices that led to one of the most widely reported drug scandals in Australian sport. It was never charged with looking at what substances were administered and the protocols that were followed in doing so. That responsibility has been entrusted to ASADA.

Once their investigation is concluded, and depending on the outcomes reached, it will be fascinating to see if Essendon revisits the question of personal liability within the club, and in doing so, jettisons certain staff for their role in it all.

Until then we remain in a holding pattern. But after today it is safe to say that those who oversaw this fiasco will continue to do so for the time being.

One wonders whether such a stance is actually transmitting the right message, both within the club and externally.

First published on ‘The Roar’ – www.theroar.com.au – on 6 May 2013