Anti-doping tribunal of the Australian Football League (AFL) has found 34 current and former Essendon players not guilty of using a banned supplement during the 2012 football season. This announcement means all the 34 players are free to play in the opening round of the AFL this weekend.
It was alleged by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) that some current and former Essendon players were administered Thymosin beta-4 as part of their fitness regime.
The Tribunal determined that there was not enough evidence to uphold the assertion of ASADA that Thymosin beta-4 was injected to the Bombers. The tribunal's chairman, David Jones, remarked the AFL anti-doping tribunal was not satisfied that players violated doping code of the AFL. Jones said the tribunal was comfortably satisfied that the substance Thymosin beta-4 was at the relevant time a prohibited substance under the anti-doping code. Jones said the tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that any player violated clause 11.2 of the AFL Anti-Doping Code. The tribunal head said decision against "a former Essendon support person", believed to be Stephen Dank, who ran supplements program of the club during the time in question, would be made at a later date.
After the verdict, Bombers captain Jobe Watson said the last two years have been extremely difficult for us and our families and added it has also been very hard for fans of the game, in particular supporters of the Essendon Football Club. Watson added we feel today's decision handed down by the AFL tribunal fully supports the players' belief that they are innocent.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the World Anti-Doping Agency have 21 days to appeal the decision.
In a statement, ASADA CEO Ben McDevitt slammed the club for its practices that resulted in the probe. McDevitt remarked what happened at Essendon in 2012 was, in my opinion, absolutely and utterly disgraceful. The ASADA CEO also remarked that it was not a supplements program but an injection regime and the players and the fans were so poorly let down by the club. Ben McDevitt also said while he is obviously disappointed that the charges in this instance have not been proven to the comfortable satisfaction of the tribunal, he is pleased that the tribunal was finally able to hear these matters.
AFL Players Association CEO Paul Marsh remarked Essendon does have to carry the blame though they always believed the players did nothing wrong. Marsh said the decision does not absolve the Essendon Football Club of blame and added that players were placed in an unacceptable position that put their health and careers at risk. The AFL Players Association CEO went on to remark that lives of these players for over two years have been hijacked by this issues through no fault of their own and also remarked that today’s decision brings a sense of overwhelming relief and vindication of the players’ consistent position of innocence throughout this saga.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said he hoped personally ASADA would not appeal the decision.