The ASADA report is in, so what now?

Date: August 4, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

After six months, over 130 witness interviews and with 13,000 supporting documents, ASADA has furnished the AFL with a 400-page interim report into the Essendon Football Club’s 2011 and 2012 medical protocols.

The League’s general counsel, Andrew Dillon held a media conference at AFL headquarters yesterday evening to notify all and sundry that arguably the most anticipated document in the history of sport in this country had finally been tabled.

So what happens now?

The first thing to keep in mind is that this document is an ‘interim’ report.

One of the main reasons is the fact that on Thursday ASADA’s new powers of investigation came into effect.

Following the Woods Review into Australian cycling, Federal parliament passed ASADA Amendment Act 126 which has effectively given the organization police-like powers of investigation.

The authority, as of Thursday, now has the power to compel athletes, and any other people it deems necessary, to face questioning or hand over all documents that are requested.

Failure to comply can lead to a fine of $5,000 for every day of refusal.

One would imagine that ASADA will use its new powers to influence one of the men central to the Essendon saga, sports scientist Stephen Dank to give evidence.

To date, Dank has refused to be involved in the ASADA investigation and has already stated through his lawyers he will go as far as the High Court to prevent being grilled by investigators on his role not just at Essendon but also with several NRL clubs.

Perhaps due to the time it is likely to take to conclude the Dank situation, ASADA has released an interim report.

ASADA has described the document as ‘thorough and robust’.

It is now up to the AFL and its legal counsel to dissect the document and act as it sees fit in response.

In facing the media, Dillon said, “the AFL acknowledges the intense interest in this matter and we will be making further statements when appropriate”.

AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou and his deputy Gillon McLachlan are due to arrive home tomorrow from a fact-finding tour of the United States with their number one priority on Monday no doubt the ASADA report.

Essendon released a curt two-sentence response to the report’s release, stating last night that “the Essendon Football Club acknowledges the announcement by the AFL that they have received the ASADA interim report. The club looks forward to receiving the report and responding in due course”.

Just when there will be responses from both the AFL and Essendon is now the burning question.

The AFL will no doubt deliver the first salvo and it could be potentially devastating for the Bombers.

The AFL announced in June that any players who were cited by ASADA for an alleged doping violation would be barred from playing until such time as the cases were adjudicated upon by the AFL tribunal.

Essendon is scheduled to play a twilight blockbuster against arch-rival Collingwood at the MCG tomorrow.

The AFL has stated that all Essendon players are allowed to play in that fixture.

However, beyond that their immediate future will be determined by ASADA’s findings.

Essendon has already engaged some heavy hitting legal counsel and coach James Hird appointed high profile human rights QC, Julian Burnside yesterday to act on his behalf.

One of the complicating points with respect to the possibility of players being stood down is the time that will need to elapse prior to a tribunal hearing.

Unlike the standard tribunal hearing that follows within a few days of an on-field misdemeanour, one that could potentially result in a player being suspended for up to two years will not occur immediately.

And it is then a matter of how individual cases would be heard – either as a group or with each player arguing their own case one-by-one.

Should suspensions be levied as a result of the ASADA report there is no doubt that appeals will be launched.

If so, will players be allowed to take the field until those appeals are heard or will they be forced to stand out?

Given Essendon is currently ensconced in the top-four we can expect that the club will serve injunctions in response to any penalties that will see their squad numbers depleted or in the more extreme case the club itself is stripped of premiership points that would automatically preclude a finals campaign.

One of the central planks of the ASADA report will surround the use and status of the oft-talked about AOD-9604, an anti-obesity drug that Essendon captain Jobe Watson publicly admitted to having used.

AOD-9604 has been deemed a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency Code as a result of it having not been cleared for human therapeutic use.

It is understood that at present no infraction notices have been issued to any players.

Over the next few days there will be a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘this will happen’ scenarios played out in the media and by followers of the game.

None of it will mean anything until the AFL releases it determination.

And that will only be the commencement of part two of this protracted saga.

With the AFL finals just a month away there is still a potential torrent of water to flow under the bridge.

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the Essendon Football Club will be hit hard by the AFL for its role in one of the code’s most ill-conceived operations.

Substantial fines will be the very minimum punishment for bringing the game into disrepute, if for nothing else.

Just how far the penalties may go beyond that will be determined in the near future.

Once again, it is a case of sitting and waiting – a practice that has been commonplace since allegations were first aired in February.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 3 August 2013