As tough as this sanction feels, the AFL accepts the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. We feel very disappointed for the players.
The program at the Essendon Football Club in 2012 was a stain on our game - and it has had a terrible impact on the players, the Club, and the reputation of the AFL.
It has struck at the very heart of our game – the integrity of the competition, and the health and safety of the players.
The players have received a very harsh punishment today in having a doping violation recorded, and a suspension until November 2016. We feel for the players, and will be offering whatever support we can through the Players Association in the coming months.
The Club too has paid a very high price.
The Club was punished in 2013, with historic sanctions not seen before in our code.
The Club accepted this punishment and agreed that they put their players in a position of unacceptable risk of being doped. The Club has also recently acknowledged serious breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Victoria.
The officials involved all received sanctions. Stephen Dank has been given a life ban by the AFL, which excludes him from all sport, forever.
Port Adelaide, Melbourne, St Kilda and The Western Bulldogs also have players suspended and supporters of those clubs will rightly feel aggrieved.
This has been a very dark period, but the last four years will not define the Essendon Football Club.
It will not define Australian football.
Essendon’s history is too important…and its future is owned by the members and supporters, and not by the last four years.
The Club has two very respected people in the new Chairman, Lindsay Tanner and new Coach, John Worsfold, and the AFL is committed to doing what we can to assist the club in moving forward.
Our competition is stronger when Essendon is strong, and all of our clubs want to see Essendon recover and rebuild, and be the fierce and passionate competitors they are.
I want to make a few points about the AFL and the process over the last few years.
The integrity of the competition, and the health of players are the most important things for our game – and we must fight to protect both.
Every decision we have made has been driven by these two pillars.
At every stage of this process, we acted within our rules and our powers, and we have assisted and cooperated with the Anti-doping authorities – as we should.
Every sport in the world faces the threat of doping, and new forms of doping. Fighting performance-enhancing drugs in sport is more important than ever.
We strongly believe our players are committed to anti-doping and that they want us to stand up and fight against performance-enhancing drugs.
Since 2012, the AFL has introduced several measures in response to the matters raised in the investigation:
- We immediately conducted a review of the supplementation practices at all AFL Clubs.
- We also conducted detailed background checks on all sports-science and medical staff in the industry.
- We significantly increased the size and powers of the AFL Integrity Department.
- We enhanced the AFL Anti-Doping Code to include Treatment Rules that govern supplementation and medical treatments that go beyond the WADA Code.
- And finally, we introduced new rules that prohibit anyone other than the appropriate medical doctor giving injections.
This Essendon process has taken too long, and CAS’s judgment today invites a discussion about the way the code applies to team sports in future.
We look forward to working with ASADA and WADA, and with Government to keep sport clean and to protect the health and safety of players.