Will we ever know what really happened at Essendon?

Date: April 1, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Dank 1“Not guilty.”

After 785 days of investigations and legal battles, those two words were uttered by AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal chairman David Jones with respect to the 34 current and former Essendon players tied up with the club’s doping saga.

The players are all free to resume playing from this weekend.

It is unlikely to be the end of the matter with ASADA expected to appeal to the AFL appeals tribunal and there is also the possibility that WADA could take the same path, or should it believe there are sufficient grounds, take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The tribunal determined that there was insufficient evidence to support ASADA’s claim that the players concerned were administered the banned substance, Thymosin Beta-4 during 2012.

In essence, today’s verdict means we will likely never know what the players were specifically given and, as a result, none of the parties involved will come out of this with enhanced reputations.

Essendon may say that the legitimacy of the program they ran in concert with sports scientist Stephen Dank has been validated.

That however cannot be taken as fact.

On ABC News Radio on Sunday Dank said an in interview, “It is well known what was used at Essendon Football Club.

“So the furphy that has been portrayed by the Australian Football League, ASADA and the Essendon Football Club that they don’t know is completely wrong.

“There were very tightly governed records in relation to what was administered to the players.

“They’re aware of what’s been administered to those players.

“So the absolute balderdash that’s been served out there that no one knew is completely false.”

Speaking on Triple R on 28 February, when asked about the record keeping and what was administered to the players Dank said that Essendon had detailed records in its possession.

“It was certainly on the club intranet,” he said. “Those records recorded every player on a spreadsheet for every day, every week, every month of the season.

“You probably need to ask Essendon Football Club [what happened to them].”

“You would need to discuss with both the AFL and the Essendon Football Club why they have tried to perpetrate the line that these records don’t exist”.

Dank’s stance flies in the face of the findings of the club’s internal review into its governance over the program which was conducted by Ziggy Switkowski, who stated that within the club there existed a “disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the club or in the period under review”.

The monetary sanctions imposed on the club by the AFL in August 2013 and the 12-month suspension handed to coach James Hird were largely tied to the findings of the Switkowski report.

Without those records it is has proved impossible to determine what indeed the players were administered and as such ASADA’s case was built around paper trails and text messages rather than documented proof of the specific substances used.

In the same interview on 28 February, Dank stated that the AFL would do “whatever they can to imply [the Bombers] have done something wrong and suspend them.”

Throughout this saga that has been his belief and the belief of many Essendon supporters.

The questions that need to be asked in that regard is why would the league’s governing body would wish to do that and what was there to be gained by the AFL in doing so?

A league dumping on one of its constituent clubs and the ramifications that would flow from it, both financial and reputational, seem hardly beneficial.

Nonetheless, the AFL has not come out of this well with public perceptions in respect to the administration of the sport’s elite league sullied.

And then there is ASADA.

Today’s decision is a massive body blow to the nation’s anti-doping watchdog.

Tyr as they might they have failed to construct sufficient evidence to substantiate its belief that 34 players were administered a banned substance.

This is a case that has garnered substantial international interest.

The verdict and the subsequent aftermath of it will continue to do so.

Changes will be made to ASADA – they need to be.

Today is unfortunately not the end of the matter.

It appears it will drag on a while yet.

But, sadly, in the end it appears that we will never know the exact details of what transpired under Dank’s watch.

All we can hope for is in future a greater diligence by all those who are looking to obtain an edge over their opponents through pharmacological means.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 31 March 2015