Not that I really want to, but after my previous post I feel I need to properly elucidate my position in regards to the Essendon supplements saga.
I’m a devoted Essendon supporter, and have been all my life. I love the club and the team. I don’t want to believe the things I read. I’m also a great admirer of one of the chief protagonists in this saga, ex-Bombers coach James Hird. I believe him to be a man of integrity, courage and decency. It’s one reason I’m reluctant to believe some of the opinions put abroad about him. You feel you know the man, what he’s capable of, and what he’s not. Throughout his career Hird was characterised by skill, intelligence and almost fearless courage. He’s not someone who would knowingly do wrong.
These are biases. Against them I would suggest that I’m a man of clear-eyed objectivity. I’m a close reader, an advocate for critical thinking, and generally unswayed by emotion. I analyse everything, even my own thoughts and feelings – that should be clear from my posts here.
I don’t believe any of the Essendon players took anything illegal. If they did then it was without their knowledge or consent. I would extend that to the key club administration, such as Hird. There’s no doubt that serious mistakes were made, and they enabled an environment whereby things might have gone wrong. That’s been widely publicised, and some penalised for their involvement. Those mistakes have been rectified, and administration overhauled. Despite the possibility, there is no direct evidence that there were illegal supplements in the club, or that they were administered to any of the players.
The key figure in this is Stephen Dank. He is a bit of a mad scientist and maverick on the cutting edge of sports medicine. He had worked at a couple of NRL clubs, as well as the Gold Coast Suns as a sports medicine consultant. He also had involvement in some anti-aging clinics.
He was brought into the EFC in 2012 on the behest of Dean ‘The Weapon’ Robinson. Robinson was in charge of the conditioning department at Essendon, and was famous for what he had done at GFC. He had worked with Robinson before and brought him in as a consultant sports scientist.
Between them they introduced a program of supplements to aid in recovery and performance. It was made clear to them by James Hird (in a widely circulated, but poorly publicised email) that as long as the supplements were legal, healthy, and had the players consent that the program could proceed.
One of the problems in 2012 was the governance structure at Essendon. Dank reported to Robinson, who was in the football department, ultimately reporting to Paul Hamilton, and beyond him, Ian Robson. Hird was separate to this. He had no clear oversight or responsibility for the program. This is well known, but once more poorly publicised.
The players were issued with consent forms prior to the program beginning. Excepting a few, all signed. Administration of the program was left to Dean Wallis, who maintained a sketchy spreadsheet listing who got what, when.
As the season progressed the team was decimated by soft tissue injuries, and some of the blame was levelled at the conditioning department – Robinson and Hird clashed. Hird wanted Robinson fired, but had no jurisdiction, and Hamilton and Robinson declined to follow through because of the pay-out that would have required.
Robinson continued, but there was such disquiet that soon after the supplements program was discontinued, and Dank left the club (and then did some work for MFC – something else brushed under the carpet). Six months later it all exploded into the saga we all know so well.
We know now that the so-called ‘blackest day in sport’ was a political beat up. Much was alleged that day, and very little has eventuated. Unfortunately the collateral damage was EFC.
The EFC were caught in an invidious position. Dank was suddenly appraised as a dodgy character, and by our association with him the club was tarred. Rather unwisely, the club agreed to a pre-emptive (AFL dictated) press conference announcing an investigation. Hird was loud and clear in saying he believed that nothing illegal was taken, but the presumption of guilt was widespread.
Everyone bar the club presumed that an investigation would turn up wrongdoing. To short-circuit that the AFL sought to corrupt the process and do a deal with the investigating body ASADA by which some guilt would be admitted for minimal penalties, with the coach being the sacrificial pawn.
It fell apart though when Hird refused to be the fall guy, putting him at loggerheads with the AFL. Further to that, the investigation turned up nothing. At first ASADA where looking to nail the club for prescribing AOD 64, only to find it wasn’t an illegal supplement. By now the AFL was in a bind, and sought to fabricate a case with ASADA to deliver their agenda. Ultimately Hird was bullied out of the game for 12 months, and Essendon, after some early defiance, was made to publicly grovel. That should have been it for the AFL, except they had let the genie out of the bottle and the rest is miserable history.
I won’t go into all of that, but let’s rewind. ASADA investigated Essendon without any definite proof or knowledge of wrongdoing – indisputable given initially they tried to nail the club for a legal supplement. They investigated on the vibe which, without the theatre of the AFL press conference, might have quietly died away without anything more coming of it. Once it was the news it became the AFL had to justify their narrative, and ASADA their existence.
Most of the alleged evidence linking the club to illegal substances is at best circumstantial, and of questionable credibility. For example, there are apparently 27 different types of Thosin, of which the banned TB4 is one. It’s alleged that Dank sourced some variety of Thymosin from China through a dodgy character in Shane Charter, and had it compounded by a dodgy pharmacist, Alavi.
There’s nothing to say this was TB4, and nothing to link it to the club. Dank is also known as Doctor Ageless, and had clinics which he sourced many drugs for. The only possible connection was an invoice to the club, which was queried and withdrawn. There is evidence of financial shenanigans by Dank.
Within the club the dysfunction made the alleged impropriety look bad. The EFC club doctor complained about Dank, and wrote a letter to Hamilton regarding it. Hamilton never responded or passed it on – meaning that Reid’s concerns were not known or acted upon. Dank was poor with his admin, and while Wallis maintained a spreadsheet listing the program it was deemed inadequate when the shit hit the fan.
So what has become of these characters post the event? Dank remains at large, an eccentric figure claiming it’s all a stitch-up and nothing illegal was done. He’s not been held to account. Robinson, his greatest supporter and the man who employed him, received a pay-out for wrongful dismissal, and with an AFL reference got a job at PWC. Hamilton seems to have escaped any censure. He left the club and purportedly found another job sponsored by the AFL. Robson is now Melbourne Victory CEO. Wallis is gone from the club. All pretty much without a scratch on them, despite them being directly involved in what happened.
We know what’s happened to Hird. He was the AFL stipulated scalp, the big name fall-guy. He resisted that, to little avail. He had nothing to do with the program, but was coshed. Likewise Bomber Thompson, who knew and recommended Robinson from Geelong – he was fined. Doc Reid was fined, but threatened court action and the AFL backed off.
Around all this is the narrative, which goes the way of most narrative these days – sensationalised, trivialised, tabloidised. People become caricatures; complex and ambiguous evidence becomes a screaming headline; truth is subsumed by juicy controversy.
It’s for this reason that James Hird has become demonised (an obvious target, his golden boy image ripe to be tarnished by the envious and bitter). Lurid tales of injections, often factually incorrect, become universal truths – ignoring how Hawthorn used to promote their cutting edge use of injections; or how the Brisbane Lions players used to have blood transfusions at half time in their games. The trivial becomes magnified – a New Mexico supplements supplier becomes, in the hands of the media, a dodgy Mexican drug den. Innuendo and half-truths, scurrilous irrelevancies and falsehoods are written into the public record, and in so doing become public ‘fact’.
This is justice today. Tried in public, and the ‘facts’ manipulated by the likes of the AFL, ASADA, and WADA to suit their narratives and cover their arse. The media jump to it because it’s news and it sells newspapers, the more sensational the better, and never mind the inconvenient truth. The public, weaned on this stuff and titillated by it, lap it up. They don’t need – don’t want – the boring detail. The lurid headline will do it. And because of the tribal aspect of the game they’re willing to believe every bit of evil scuttlebutt. Ignorance is belief.
Battling all of this is the club, unable to resist without sanction by the AFL, and Hird, overwhelmed by vitriol and the forces arrayed against him; and the players, long-suffering pawns in this game.
It’s no wonder that CAS found for WADA. It’s the only way face is saved, and the political point made. It’s not about justice, it’s about contriving the right political result. Think I’m cynical. Well, look around you. This is the world today.