How should Essendon treat any AFL imposed bans?

Date: August 13, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

It appears D-Day is just around the corner for the beleaguered Essendon Football Club.

The Bombers have been under the microscope all season with respect to ASADA’s investigation into the alleged use of banned substances at the club in 2011 and 2012.

From all reports, the AFL is going to come down strongly against the club with penalties potentially to include stripping premiership points, removing draft picks, fining the club and suspending non-plying personnel.

It appears that the ASADA interim report shows that the investigators may not have enough definitive proof of which players were provided banned substances and as such they may escape sanction at present.

So, what is the best course of action for Essendon if it is handed the above penalties or a combination of several?

The stripping of premiership points would cause an interesting conundrum.

For the bulk of the home-and-away season Essendon appeared destined for a top-four finish however in recent weeks the blowtorch brought to bear by the tabling of the ASADA report appears to have had a deleterious effect on the club’s on-field performance.

The last three matches have resulted in losses with an aggregate of 188 points.

Over the same period the club has slipped to seventh on the ladder with three rounds remaining ahead of the finals.

Mathematically, the club can still make the top-four but by the time the club digests the information with respect to penalties from the AFL they will know whether it is a legitimate contender for the premiership.

Recent form is not encouraging and history indicates that almost exclusively the premier comes from one of the top-four sides on the table at season’s end.

In fact, since 1900 only once has the premiership been won by a side that finished outside the top-four – fifth-placed Adelaide in 1998.

Football clubs are in business for one primary goal – the flag.

If Essendon finishes in the bottom half of the top-eight it would appear a nigh on impossibility to achieve that goal.

So just what would be the best course of action should the AFL decide to remove the Essendon’s points?

The club could contest the penalty in court and it may be successful.

However, if it is not the premiership points penalty would be carried over to next season which would mean that the club could win every single match yet still finish on the bottom of the ladder in season 2014.

What sort of motivation would the players and club management have in that situation let alone the effect would such a season would have on members, supporters and sponsors?

Would it be best to simply cop your medicine and be guaranteed of clearing the slate points wise ahead of 2014?

Of course, doing so the club would be admitting guilt but if the chances of a successful appeal is judged slim would it be prudent to accept that penalty and move on?

The removal of draft picks would be of massive concern for the club.

We saw the impact that was wrought on Carlton due to the club’s salary cap breaches that were identified in 2002.

The subsequent draft penalties – and a collective fine of $930,000 – significantly weakened the club on and off the field.

A club that had won an AFL record equalling 16 premierships was a competitive non-entity in subsequent seasons – 15th in 2003, 11th in 2004, last in 2005 and 2006 and 15th in 2007.

The inability to replenish playing stocks with top-end draft picks can cruel a club’s short term development.

Essendon would be only too aware of that and would want to fight such a penalty passionately.

There may be wriggle room though if the club was to accept the stripping of its points without legal action.

Another likely penalty is monetary.

As mentioned, ten years ago Carlton was fined just under $1 million.

In more recent times, Melbourne was hit with a $500,000 fine despite not actually being found guilty of tanking.

There exists the likelihood that the Bombers may be fined as much as those two clubs combined.

Again, do they accept it?

As long as the fine is paid through an Essendon Football Club account I doubt the AFL would care where the club got the money from.

Much of, if not the entire amount, could be paid club benefactors or sponsors.

Interestingly, newly appointed chairman Paul Little is one of Australia’s richest men with a reported net wealth in excess of $700 million.

With that sort of money comes a vast network of potential top-of-the-town financial contributors.

And then of course there is the case of individual Essendon employees being handed suspensions for their role in the saga.

Given the 12-month ban handed down to Melbourne’s football manager Chris Connolly and 16-week suspension to coach Dean Bailey over the supposed tanking issue, the likelihood of similar actions with respect to Essendon appear likely.

The three names bandied about openly of late are coach James Hird, football manager Danny Corcoran and long-standing club doctor Bruce Reid.

Little has said he and his board are 100% behind each man.

Hird has signalled that he will take legal action to clear his name should he be hit with a suspension.

Therein lays another threat to Essendon.

Any legal action that the club or individuals may take could lead in fact to even greater penalties.

Throughout this saga the man at the centre of Essendon’s questionable sports science program, Steve Dank, has refused to co-operate with ASADA.

If legal action is instigated against the AFL with regard to the penalties it metes out, there seems little doubt that Dank would be subpoenaed to give evidence.

Throughout he has staunchly denied having administered any of the Bombers’ players with banned substances.

He did admit however in the Fairfax media in April that he had given certain players the drug AOD-9604.

WADA says that it is a banned substances by virtue of not having received regulatory approval for human therapeutic use.

Dank has stated all along that he has an email from WADA stating that the drug was not banned.

WADA has publicly released its two-way email correspondence with Dank and no such approval is apparent.

Dank would need to produce in court the said email to clear any wrongdoing at Essendon with respect to that drug and if cannot things may become even bleaker for the Bombers.

Dank says he has a fully documented record of every drug and dosage he gave each player.

If in court, those records show which players were administered AOD-9604 each stands to receive a maximum two-year suspension.

In the final analysis, the Essendon Football Club and some of its servants will need to think long and hard as to how to handle any penalties it receives from the AFL for an awful amount will hinge on the outcome.

The next few weeks, if not months may prove riveting.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 12 August 2013