The long and drawn out soap opera that is the Essendon Doping Saga is drawing to close. This week the last avenue remaining to ‘The Essendon 34’ was exhausted with the Swiss Federal Tribunal rejecting their appeal against the Court of Arbitration in Sports finding of earlier this year. As a result, the guilty findings and suspensions handed down by the same tribunal last year will stand.
All that remains is the small matter of a Brownlow Medal and 34 players and their impending, or in some cases on-going, compensation claims against their current or former club. One of which may be a little larger depending on the resolution of the first dispute.
Whether you are in the ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty’ camp, whether you are sympathetic or not to the players’ plight in this matter, it matters not – the jury’s verdict is now in – and its finding is final. Whether you agree with the finding or not, it has been tested by every tribunal available.
Despite telling all and sundry he wanted his ‘day in court’, James Hird unsuccessfully appealed to the Victorian Supreme Court then the Australian Federal Court to prevent this actually happening. The AFL, despite assertions from many of their compliance with ASADA on the matter, found the 34 not guilty of any offence.
Two appeals have followed the ‘anti-Essendon’ AFL’s finding, one an appeal by WADA, the second the recent appeal by Essendon. Both have found the players guilty as charged. With the players serving their suspension while the appeal was heard, most of what is to be sorted out in this mess has now been sorted out. Most, not all.
Essendon’s insurers, after reaching into their pockets to fund the defence of the players to this point, will now concern themselves with compensation claims. A 12-month doping suspensions as a result of a club orchestrated supplement program will necessitate some kind of large financial transaction to soothe the loss and suffering. There seems a large chance that this will be resolved in a negotiated outcome without the need for court proceedings but it will cost a serious chunk of change.
What we will hear much more of though, will be the speculation and resolution of the ownership of the 2012 Brownlow Medal. In a statement after the Swiss Court finding, the AFL detailed the process and timeline for this determination. “As stated earlier this year, it is the AFL’s view that the AFL Commission must determine this matter,” a league statement read. “The next Commission meeting in November will provide the appropriate amount of time for all relevant parties to prepare.”
It is a meeting the AFL have dreaded, Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan admitting as much in May. In a saga full of red herrings, the AFL have brought more into this decision, inviting Watson and potential winners Trent Cotchin and Sam Mitchell to make submissions to the meeting. This is pointless, whatever the feelings of these three men, it makes no difference to the matter at hand. This is passing the buck, plain and simple.
While the ramifications of the judgement will be difficult for all involved, the actual decision itself is made for them. The fact his guilt has been strongly disputed and established after the awarding of the medal makes no difference. If Corey McKernan and Chris Grant are ineligible to be a Brownlow winner after being suspended for one match, Jobe Watson cannot possibly be eligible after being suspended for a season.
Another sad and sorry chapter in this messy chronicle, but hopefully its last.