The 34 past and present Essendon footballers are cheats and liars.
That is the brutal reality the World Anti-Doping Agency had to convince the highest sporting tribunal in the world - the Court of Arbitration of Sport - was a fact.
It is no such thing.
Whether the Essendon players were administered Thymosin Beta 4 or indeed any other prohibited peptide or substance by banned sports scientist Stephen Dank is now a moot point. However, what is alleged is some ‘secret documents’ otherwise known as 'doping control forms' that have not been released for public consumption indicate that the players may have been completely in the clear.
In the words of prominent player agent Peter Jess, the release of these documents highlight the “serious flaws” behind the CAS findings and subsequent suspension of the Essendon 34. It allegedly uncovers that CAS’ ‘conspiracy of collusion’ that was so important in casting a veil of distrust and culpability over the players, propelling the group into the unenviable position of full responsibility and a maximum penalty, was rubbish. Complete and utter rubbish.
For those unaware, former Essendon midfielder and one thirty-fourth of the banned Bombers, Nathan Lovett-Murray has signaled his intention to join the fight to force ASADA to comply with a Freedom of Information request made by a member of the public. The request asks ASADA to release doping control forms signed by the Essendon players during the supplements program of 2012. Lovett-Murray believes the documents are a “matter of great importance and will prove (his) innocence”. However, a major speed hump in the release of these documents has appeared on the road, with the AFL threatening to sever ties with ASADA if the doping forms are made public. This could have massive ramifications for the AFL, as millions of dollars in federal government funding could possibly be pulled from the competition. If the AFL disassociates with ASADA, the league will be forced to set up its own – preferably independent – agency to control and punish doping in the game. So, it’s fair to say these forms are critical to all parties – here’s why and what’s in them.
Right up until the final day of the CAS hearing, the AFL’s senior counsel, Jeff Gleeson argued that even if the players were to be found to have taken a banned substance they should not be suspended on the grounds of the players having no significant fault or negligence. Essentially, the Essendon and, by extension, AFL camp were trying to argue that the players were duped and then doped in the same manner as the Cronulla Sharks players in the NRL. Their NRL counterparts received a significantly reduced penalty.
However, CAS did not accept this. Their narrative has remained that the players, Dank and Dean Robinson were all in it together, lying and cheating. Cheating and lying.
As former ASADA CEO Ben McDevitt said on the fateful day the CAS findings were released, “at best, the players did not ask the questions of the people that they should have. At worst, they were complicit in a culture of secrecy and concealment.” This is supported by CAS’ findings which stated that “there would be no reason to cast a veil of secrecy over something that was positively known not be lawful and innocent”.
So, what was the smoking gun that changed the player’s narrative from the cheated to the cheats? How did they become ‘complicit’ to ‘secrecy and concealment’? What made them supposed liars to investigators?
It was the players’ perceived failure to declare their injections in their doping control forms, mentioned ad nauseum throughout the hearing, that led to their suspensions. In the words of the CAS panel, “The complete failure of the vast majority of players who had to fill in a doping control form during the season to reveal the receipt of injections does not encourage confidence in their statements as to the limited or sporadic nature of what they were injected with”.
These doping control forms-cum-secret documents are filled out by all AFL footballers whenever they are drug tested. On these forms, players have the opportunity to declare any substances that they have taken in the past week. The purpose of this is to provide an explanation should they return a surprise positive test. It is very important to note that players are well within their right to declare nothing. It is not compulsory to declare anything at all. However, the so-called ‘failure’ of all members of the Essendon 34 to declare Thymosin Beta 4 portrays the players to CAS as complicit. It screams to them that the players were in on it.
But as the doping control forms will show, this is misleading. The Freedom of Information request is restricted to the names of the players and the dates on which they were drug tested. Nathan Lovett-Murray and his manager Peter Jess believe the dates of the drug tests will prove the players were simply unable to declare Thymosin Beta 4 as it was not available in Australia from a known source at the time Lovett-Murray was drug tested. Therefore, he believes the CAS findings that savaged of the credibility of the players due to a conspiracy of colluding to ensure secrecy has no substance.
Jess claims the documents will prove that players such as former Brownlow Medallist Jobe Watson, current club captain Dyson Heppell, Nathan Lovett-Murray, Mark McVeigh and Brent Prismal actually had nothing to declare at the time of their drug tests, and therfore did nothing wrong.
The documents also allegedly prove that thirteen of the players were not drug tested at all throughout the 2012 supplements program, meaning they had no opportunity to declare anything on any form even had they been completely willing to do so. These players were Dustin Fletcher, Jake Carlisle, Cale Hooker, Tom Bellchambers, Heath Hocking, Scott Gumbleton, Henry Slattery, Travis Cloyer, Leroy Jetta, Sam Lonergan, Brendan Lee, Luke Davis and Ariel Steinberg.
With the majority of the players unable to declare Thymosin Beta 4, a key component of the CAS findings that ultimately cast 34 players into the football wilderness as drug cheats has been proven to be baseless.
So, one has to ask, why on Earth are ASADA and the AFL trying to keep this secret?