Jobe Watson’s admission guarantees sanction for Essendon and its players

Date: June 26, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

For the first time in the Essendon doping saga a player has come forward and confirmed that he was administered the banned drug AOD-9604.

And it is not just any player.

Reigning Brownlow medallist, club captain and son of a Bombers’ legend, Jobe Watson made the stunning admission on Fox Footy’s On The Couch last night in response to a question posed by host, Gerard Healy, another member of the coveted Brownlow club.

It is the first time that anyone from Essendon has broken their silence with respect to the controversial enhancement program that was undertaken by the club throughout the 2012 AFL season.

The admission is damning, and potentially, far reaching.

Watson has already been interviewed by ASADA and no doubt he has furnished it with the same information.

Whilst Watson admitted he had been administered AOD-9604, he strongly refuted any claim that he done anything wrong.

“The understanding we had through the advice we got and from the medical doctor at the football club [Dr Bruce Reid] was that it was a legal substance. It’s my belief that we have done nothing wrong. I don’t have any feeling of guilt. All I want is for the truth to come out.”

Unfortunately for Watson, and any teammates who were administered AOD-9604, the truth is they are guilty of doping.

One of the key tenets of the WADA Code is enshrined in Article 2.1.1, which outlines clearly the roles and responsibilities of the athlete:

“It is each athlete’s personal duty to ensure that no prohibited substance enters his or her body. Athletes are responsible for any prohibited substance or its metabolites or markers found to be present in their samples. Accordingly, it is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence or knowing use on the athlete’s part be demonstrated in order to establish an anti-doping violation …”

Under that very clause, any Essendon player who was administered a banned substance is personally liable under the WADA Code for its presence in their system.

To simply say that they were unaware of the nature of the substance they were given is not a defence in itself with respect to escaping sanction.

Under the WADA Code the use of a banned substance such as AOD-9604 attracts a two-year ban.

There are however sections within the Code that allow for sanctions to be reduced but history indicates that success in this area is with respect to the full overturning of a ban is extremely unlikely.

Sections 10.5.1 and 10.5.2 of the WADA Code address the area of ‘no fault and negligence’.

This part of the legislation will no doubt be targeted by defence counsel for any player who is deemed to be guilty of a doping infraction.

The players’ lawyers will certainly argue their clients were acting in good faith and relying on information that was supplied to them by staff under the employ of the Essendon Football Club whose responsibility it was to conduct medical protocols that were in the remit of the WADA Code.

This may possibly contribute to a shortened ban, but a complete expunging of any penalty seems unlikely.

It may seem harsh on face value that players be penalized largely for the indiscretion of medical staff that have been given the green light by their club’s administration but the harsh reality remains that Article 2.2.1 of the Code is the overriding concern.

Athletes, at the end of the day, must be vigilant with regard to what they are administered.

There may be wriggle room with regard to reducing the penalty by taking into account the fact that players were acting in good faith on advice they received from people they, and the club, trusted, but it is still implicit the way the Code operates that players receive some form of sanction.

Players may argue all they want that they have not knowingly done anything wrong however the truth remains that ultimate responsibility lays with them.

There are myriad stories involving young East German athletes being supplied with ‘vitamin tablets’ in the 1970s and ‘80s by team doctors, only to find later that the tablets in question contained banned performance enhancing drugs.

Nonetheless, there would be few around who would not argue that the performances of those athletes and the records they created be expunged from the record books.

The fact that they operated in a period prior to out of competition testing – introduced in 1989 – and thus escaped detection does not allay the fact that they were cheating.

Had they returned a positive test at any meet in which they competed they would have received the full weight of the anti-doping rules of that time.

Hence, the principals remain the same.

A reduction may be successfully argued under the sections of the Code that relate to ‘no fault and negligence’, but complete exoneration is nigh impossible.

The Code states that these rules are ‘meant to have an impact only in cases where the circumstances are truly exceptional’.

About the only time there has been a complete overturning of a mandatory ban occurred in 2005 when Ukrainian ice hockey player Oleksandr Pobyedonostsev successfully appealed against a two-year ban for having been administered the anabolic agent nandralone.

His appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was upheld as a result of the fact that he was administered the drug whilst unconscious in a hospital emergency room while being treated for a heart condition.

Once the AFL receives the final findings of ASADA’s investigation it will have plenty on its mind.

Should Watson be stripped of last season’s Brownlow Medal, and if so, should it then be awarded to the joint runners-up, Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell and Richmond’s Trent Cotchin, or merely left as an asterisk in the history books?

What penalties should be handed to the football club itself for ‘bringing the sport into disrepute’?

When would the bans are handed out become effective in light of the fact that Essendon seems destined to play in the AFL finals in September?

And, perhaps most tellingly, what ongoing advantage have the players who received AOD-9604 had?

We will not know until ASADA’s findings are eventually tabled – the AFL understands this may be in early August – as to how often the drug in question was administered.

There is talk of some players receiving weekly injections during the 2012 season under a medical regime that Ziggy Switkowski, the man charged with conducting an internal review into the club’s medical protocols, described as being “a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment that was never adequately controlled or challenged or documented’.

Well, it is being challenged now and Watson’s latest comments indicate that the outcome of ASADA’s investigation should lead to stiff sanctions.

Watson last night said that “the experience of having that many injections was not something I had experienced in AFL football before’.

The AFL will be determined that such practices never occur again.

And to help ensure that is the case, the penalties resulting from the Essendon inquiry need to be significant.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 25 June 2013