The AFL and Essendon are now at war over the club’s supplements scandal.
Six months of official investigations, back-room negotiations, media leaks and public posturing exploded into open conflict on Wednesday afternoon after the league released details of its charges.
Essendon coach James Hird and chairman Paul Little quickly hit back, slamming the AFL and again stressing they would mount a vigorous defence.
It is the greatest crisis in the game’s history.
Court action seems inevitable and surely there is now no chance that Essendon’s top-eight status can be confirmed by the AFL Commission before the finals.
Next Monday, the commission is supposed to hear the charges against Essendon, Hird, club doctor Bruce Reid, senior assistant coach Mark Thompson and Bombers football manager Danny Corcoran.
But that hearing is now highly doubtful, meaning the Bombers go into the finals with the charges unresolved.
Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick has called a special meeting of club presidents on Thursday afternoon to brief them on the crisis.
Eight days after the AFL announced it had laid charges against Essendon and the four individuals, chief executive Andrew Demetriou went ahead with the league’s intention to release the details.
Even though many of the particulars were already confirmed or alleged, the 34-page document made for extraordinary reading.
The AFL notes the statement of grounds are charges only, with their correctness or otherwise still to be determined.
In them, the league said the Bombers either allowed players to be administered substances that were prohibited by the AFL Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code, or, alternatively, the club was unable to determine whether players were administered substances prohibited by the two codes.
The AFL charged Essendon after receiving an interim report from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, who are still investigating the club.
No anti-doping charges have been laid so far, with the AFL charges relating to allegations of conduct unbecoming and bringing the game into disrepute.
The charges contain in full a letter from Reid to Hird and then-football manager Paul Hamilton in January 2012 expressing Reid’s concerns about the supplement program.
In the letter, Reid said he had “fundamental problems being club doctor at present”, as players had been receiving injections of AOD-9604 without his knowledge.
He described the use of the drug as ludicrous, said the fact that it was marketed for body builders should “raise a red flag” and questioned whether Hird or Hamilton would want their children injected with it.
Hird and Little were furious when they fronted the media a couple of hours after the AFL’s statement.
Hird said the publication of the Reid letter was a breach of due process.
They said the charges are not supported by the evidence and accusing the AFL of trying to intimidate the club.
Hird and Little did not mince their words, with the chairman accusing the league of reprehensible behaviour and adding the AFL was determined to punish the Bombers are drug cheats.
The Bombers coach, the central figure in this saga, said the AFL was running a trial by media against him and decried the announcement of the charges as an ambush.
Hird stressed Essendon would defend the charges vigorously.
“Throughout the course of this exercise, I have been denied natural justice and today’s ambush is just another example of that,” Hird said.
Hird did not address an allegation in the charge particulars that he received vials of Melanotan II and syringes from Essendon’s former high performance manager Dean Robinson.
Hird was never warned about potential adverse reactions, but suffered “significant side effects”, the AFL says.
Little acknowledges Essendon will have to accept some sort of penalty from the league for the supplements program.
“However, we maintain our belief that no player was administered either harmful or prohibited substances and assert there is insufficient evidence upon which any such allegation should have been made,” Little said.
Little called for Fitzpatrick to intervene, saying he had lost faith in the AFL executive.
Hird said Demetriou and the AFL have conflicts of interest. He wants the case heard by an independent arbiter.
AFL Players’ Association chief executive Matt Finnis said the league’s charge details were shocking and distressing.
“It is shocking to see that the concerns of health professionals can be ignored in a club that seems intent on pushing the boundaries regardless of their potential impact,” Finnis said.