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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 16 January 2016
SPORT 26 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 16 JANUARY 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Essendon Bombers’ dark road ahead FIV ANTONIOU Having taken years, with millions of dollars expended on courts and lawyers, the Essendon drug saga has finally concluded following the Court of Arbitration for Sport's (CAS) verdict which found 34 past and present Essendon players guilty on doping charges and banned them effectively for the entire 2016 season. The list of banned players from the current Essendon football club include Tom Bellchambers, Travis Colyer, Dyson Heppell, Michael Hibberd, Heath Hocking, Cale Hooker, Ben Howlett, Michael Hurley, David Myers, Tayte Pears, Brent Stanton and Jobe Watson (captain and 2012 Brownlow medallist). The decision by CAS not only affected Essendon but impacted other AFL clubs with former Essendon players who have moved on - Jake Carlisle (St Kilda), Stewart Crameri (Western Bulldogs), Jake Melksham (Melbourne), Angus Monfries and Paddy Ryder (Port Adelaide) and Mark McVeigh, assistant coach at Greater Western Sydney Giants. The ban also affects 16 former players who have retired or moved on to country and minor leagues. Banned players cannot train or be coached by club staff, hold a coaching or administrative position with any AFL or other sporting club anywhere in the world until their sentence is served. The only Bombers senior player not to sign up to the 2012 supplement injection program was David Zaharakis, who is free to play. A further unfolding drama is that the verdict also raises questions over the 2012 Brownlow Medal victory of Essendon captain Jobe Watson, who has been given an opportunity to address the AFL Commission on this issue in February. By all indications, the AFL will have to Essendon chairman Lindsay Tanner. make the hard decision and strip Watson of the Brownlow on the grounds that although he was the best player he was not the fairest because of the supplements conviction. If that happens, Trent Cotchin (Richmond) and Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn), who finished equal runners-up, will both be awarded the Brownlow. The CAS decision, on top of the AFL's 2013 penalty on the Essendon Bombers - where coach James Hird was banned for 12 months and Essendon fined $2 million inclusive of booting the Bombers out of that year's finals series - has caused irreparable damage to the club. It was compounded further in November last year when the club was fined $305,000 as WorkSafe Victoria charged the Bombers with two counts of breaching the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act over its handling of the 2012 supplements program. Now Essendon has taken the big hit, it has only one choice - to rebuild the club from the ashes, but there is a long, dark road ahead, and in the fallout, the pending legal implications and litigation processes in civil courts may drag on for a few years more. Moving forward under the presidency of Lindsay Tanner and newly-appointed head coach John Worsfold, the first task is to field a competitive team for the 2016 season. The AFL has allowed the club to elevate five rookies to the senior squad and recruit ten uncontracted players from other AFL clubs provided the clubs release their players to Essendon. The other option is to seek out last season’s retired players and offer them a one-year contract, but whatever happens in the next month or so, the Essendon side will struggle to be competitive. The other clubs involved will also be given the opportunity to replace their banned players from their rookie lists. The second task at hand is for Essendon to consolidate and increase its membership base. No doubt there will be members who will disown the Bombers, but the diehard supporters are the foundation of the club and in times of crisis they can close ranks and propel the team's renaissance on and off the field. Whether the banned players come back to Essendon in 2017 or not depends on what they do, as already there are moves underway to sue the Essendon Football Club for its role in the supplements scandal. Issues such as disclosure, negligence, loss of income and the long-term mental and physical health issues of the supplements program will be tested, which could involve Essendon forking out millions of dollars in settlement payments to current and former players. It's important for Essendon, with the support of the AFL, to settle these matters as quickly and expediently as possible, because the longer they go on the less the likelihood of the banned players returning to the club. If most decide to move on to other AFL sides or retire it would devastate Es- sendon for a decade or more, languishing in the bottom eight. The AFL must also act to change the culture in football clubs so that players have a greater input and feedback into their medical treatment and liaison with coaching staff. Players from this day forward should be allowed to question everything that goes into their bodies without fear of repercussion or disciplinary action. What brought the Essendon players undone was the fact that they signed forms swearing them to secrecy of the supplements program because they trusted their coaching staff to do the best by them. Unfortunately, part of that non-disclosure was to withhold information on their supplements injections from ASADA's performance enhancing drug testing regime during 2012. On 3 August 2013, I predicted the unfolding of the supplements scandal and wrote the following in Neos Kosmos' Saturday edition: “James Hird, Brownlow med- allist and AFL hall of famer, has increasingly since 2011 become obsessive about restoring the football club to its former glory at any cost - 'Whatever it takes'. James Hird fully supported the 'black-ops' supplement scheme together with sports scientist Stephen Danks, the Bombers’ football general manager Danny Corcoran and fitness coach Dean 'The Weapon' Robinson, key figures in the creation of the club's high-performance supplements program. “ASADA's investigation into the Bombers’ supplements program will be handed down next week. Reputations or not, a 'soft solution' is not an option anymore. Draconian punitive measures from the AFL will await the guilty and if the punishment is considered inadequate or soft by ASADA and WADA, then the drug watchdogs have the power to overrule any decision and impose harder, more austere penalties. 'Whatever it takes' shall haunt the Essendon Football Club forever.” Bombers’ Zaharakis avoids the needle and the damage done The AFL doping saga plummeted the Essendon Bombers to new depths last Tuesday morning when the Swissbased Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the appeal by the World AntiDoping Authority (WADA) against the AFL's own antidoping tribunal which had cleared 34 current and former Essendon players of doping offences. The 34 players are alleged to have taken part in a supplements program in 2012, involving the injection of a banned peptide, Thymosin Beta 4. The decision by CAS and the subsequent bans to the players involved have thrown the Bombers into a nose-dive for season 2016. Twelve of its current list, including Brownlow med- al-winner Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton, are on the banned list, while five former Bombers currently at other AFL clubs also received a ban. All players have been slapped with a two-year ban backdated to March 2015, meaning that most will be out of action until at least November 2016. One current Essendon player who is not on the banned list is David Zaharakis. Zaharakis' aversion to needles means he did not take part in the 2012 supplements injection program that has since dogged the club. Speaking to the Herald Sun some months ago, prior to the latest CAS ruling, Zaharakis opened up about the wearying effect the drug scandal had had on players and their families.
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