AFL Hands Essendon Finals Ban, A$2 Million Fine Over Supplements

Australian Football League club Essendon was banned from this year’s finals series and given an unprecedented A$2 million ($1.8 million) fine over the supplements scandal that has overshadowed the 2013 season.

The AFL Commission also suspended Essendon coach James Hird for 12 months, banned or fined two other key officials and stripped the club of draft picks for the next two years for bringing the game into disrepute by implementing a supplements program in 2011 and 2012 that risked players being given banned substances. Essendon said it accepted the penalties.

The sanctions, announced last night at a televised news conference following two days of negotiations at the league’s Melbourne headquarters, were the “most significant” in the Australian rules competition’s history, AFL Chief Executive Officer Andrew Demetriou said.

Essendon acknowledged that it had “established a supplements program that was experimental, inappropriate and inadequately vetted and controlled,” AFL Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “The club failed to ensure it adequately protected the health, welfare and safety of the players.”

The Bombers, who had been guaranteed a berth in next month’s finals by finishing in the top eight of the regular-season standings, will officially finish in ninth place, the AFL said. Five teams have a chance of taking the last playoff spot going into this weekend’s final round.

Seven-Month Probe

Melbourne-based Essendon, the winner of 16 Premierships, has been under investigation by the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority and the AFL since early February over its use of supplements. Essendon self-reported its concerns about the program and officials and players co-operated fully with the AFL and ASADA in the probe, during which 130 witnesses were interviewed and 13,000 documents reviewed, the AFL said.

Essendon in February commissioned former Telstra Corp. Chief Executive Officer Ziggy Switkowski to conduct a review of its corporate governance from August 2011, which detailed “a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the club.”

The ASADA probe is ongoing and the anti-doping agency earlier this month provided the AFL with a 400-page interim report. Acting on that report, the AFL charged Essendon, Hird, club doctor Bruce Reid, football manager Danny Corcoran and assistant coach Mark Thompson with engaging in conduct unbecoming and bringing the game into disrepute.

Corcoran was given a six-month ban from Oct. 1, two months of which were suspended, while Thompson was fined A$30,000. Reid is contesting his charge, which will be heard tomorrow.

Not Drug Cheats

Essendon Chairman Paul Little said last night the club’s acceptance of the sanctions recognized failings that had occurred during the supplement program.

“The admissions relate to governance and people management, not the administration of prohibited or harmful substances,” Little said. “Importantly, there is no allegation of drug cheating.”

Demetriou said that Hird had apologized to the commission for his role in the saga and had appeared to be “genuinely remorseful.” The 40-year-old Hird, who captained the team to the 2000 championship, will be welcome back as Bombers coach after serving his ban, Little said.

“James Hird told the commission that he took responsibility for the shortcomings in the club’s 2012 supplements program,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that James Hird agreed to accept these penalties so the club could move on. James is very keen to continue his coaching with Essendon and the Essendon Football Club is very keen to have James Hird continue.”

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