ESSENDON, its coach James Hird and key football staff members Mark Thompson, Danny Corcoran and Dr Bruce Reid have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute for their roles in the club's 2011-12 supplements program.
AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon announced the charges arising from the AFL-ASADA investigation on Tuesday night at AFL House.
No charges were announced against departed Essendon high performance manager Dean Robinson.
Rule-breakers: a short history of 'conduct unbecoming'
"On information before the AFL, there is no specific anti-doping rule violation attributed to any individual player for use of AOD-9604 or any other prohibited substance," Dillon said.
This is despite WADA declaring AOD-9604 – an anti-obesity drug – a banned substance under the S0 (non-approved substances) clause.
However, Dillon said further infraction notices could still be issued with the joint investigation between the AFL and ASADA to remain open.
This could lead to further charges under AFL rules against other individuals, as could the revelation of "further information".
"All parties charged will be provided every reasonable opportunity to respond to these matters before the AFL Commission prior to any determination being made," Dillon said.
Little said the charges against Essendon involved complex matters that the club was determined to resolve as quickly as possible, but not "at the expense of thoroughness and due process that affords all parties natural justice to ensure a fair outcome."
Little said the Bombers welcomed the news their players would not be sanctioned at this stage.
"We have maintained that no player has taken a performance-enhancing substance and that there was no breach of the AFL's anti-doping code," Little said.
Little conceded there was "no doubt" Essendon and staff members had made mistakes and that its governance and people management had had "significant gaps".
He also said the players had "fully co-operated with every part" of the investigation and had "always said we've got nothing to hide".
"As professional sportsmen, we would never do anything to compromise the integrity of the game, our team, or our own values," Watson said.
"The last six months have been an extremely tough time for us and our families and friends, and while we've stayed focused on our footy, the speculation and innuendo has had an impact in some way on all of us.
"You could never describe this experience as a positive, but what has come out of it is an even tighter bond across the playing group."
The club and the four individuals were charged under AFL Rule 1.6 with engaging in conduct that is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the Australian Football League or to being the game of football into disrepute.
Dillon said the AFL would not be commenting further on the pending Commission hearing.
An ASADA spokesperson told AFL.com.au there would be no comment on the charges.
"Look, there's quite a deal of assistance that myself and my legal team can and will offer to Essendon and this case," Dank said.
"So I'm sure that when we put everything together there will be quite a strong, precise and accurate case both by both myself and Essendon in taking the AFL and ASADA on."
The ASADA and AFL probe into Essendon's supplements program in 2011 and 2012 began in February and has cast a pall over the club's season.
Hird admitted on Sunday after the loss to West Coast, the Bombers' third on the trot, that the saga had affected the players' mental state.
The scandal has claimed the jobs of former Essendon football manager Paul Hamilton, CEO Ian Robson and club chairman David Evans, who resigned after a health scare following the round 18 loss to Hawthorn.
Sports scientist Robinson, who broke his silence last month in a paid interview on Channel Seven, and biochemist Stephen Dank were also casualties.
"It was no expense spared - everything was whatever it takes, and I guess that was the slogan they went with this year, 'Whatever it takes' because that was James Hird's attitude," Robinson said.
Questions over the status of anti-obesity drug AOD-9604 have been a feature of the six-month investigation into the Bombers.
Watson admitted in a television interview in June that he had taken what he believed to be AOD-9604 last season.
He said he had signed a consent form to take the substance, but believed at the time it was legal.
Essendon officials have consistently maintained their believe that players had not taken banned substances.
In an interesting twist, Dank extended an olive branch to the Bombers on Monday night when he told Channel Nine he would help them if they were stripped of points or fined.
He said there was a "common enemy" both he and the club were facing.
September 24, 2012
Paul Hamilton resigns. A statement released by the club says he "made a decision to further develop his career and explore other opportunities".
Meeting at David Evans' home involving James Hird, Ian Robson, club doctor Bruce Reid and football manager Danny Corcoran. Phone call from Andrew Demetriou was received.
Press conference at AFL House at which the Bombers announced they had self-reported "concern" over information received about their supplements program.
Dean Robinson stood down by the club.
The Bombers announce an external review of their practices, to be conducted by former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski.
Fairfax report alleges Hird took banned substances with the help of Dank.
Switkowski review complete – a key finding is, "The CEO must be accountable for everything that happens within his organisation".
Ian Robson resigns, saying, "There is no excuses in not knowing, and as CEO, I am accountable and I accept that accountability".
Jobe Watson admits to having taken what he believed to be AOD9604, believing it was not banned.
Further doubt over whether AOD9604 was banned under ASADA rules raised on AFL 360, with allegation that those who enquired after it in 2012 were told it was legal.
Evans denies he is standing down after a routine board meeting.
Evans remains defiant ahead of Essendon-Hawthorn clash. However, his health deteriorates in the rooms post-match and Hird uses his press conference to plead for an end to the saga as it is, "Affecting so many people's lives … it's got to the point where it's going to affect people's lives permanently".
Evans stands down.
Paul Little appointed as club chairman. Says the board is behind Hird and will support him into the finals.
Robinson breaks his silence.
Little tells pre-match lunch that expected charges against the club and some officials will give Essendon a chance to be 'uninhibited' for the first time in its defence.