As predicted more and more information is beginning to spill out regarding the Essendon supplements saga, much of it posing serious questions about the AFL’s role from before it actually became a ‘saga’, and also Andrew Demetriou’s potential role in the “self reporting” of Essendon.
Yesterday via a second directions hearing in the court case regarding the legality or otherwise of the AFL/ASADA joint investigation into Essendon came a reference to a video of a presentation the AFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Peter Harcourt, had given to a FIFA conference in Zurich, Switzerland in November 2013.
James Hird’s legal team brought it to the attention of the court, because it adds to what appears a very strong case that the investigation in fact was a joint one, despite ASADA’s most recent claims. The appropriate part of the video referenced had Dr Harcourt talking about the real reason for the ‘joint’ investigation saying –
“The real reason was that under individual contracts, all players are contracted to the league as opposed to the clubs.
“It’s quite effective, because it gave enormous power to ASADA to look at mobile phones, digital records, files and coerce interviews — because it is allowed under the contract of the players to the league”.
That was interesting and no doubt extremely useful for Essendon and Hird’s case, but there was much more information to come from this presentation.
The biggest revelation from Dr Harcourt was that Essendon players had been ‘target tested’ by ASADA at the request of the AFL in 2012 after the AFL had “caught wind” of something going on at Essendon during that season. The samples arising from the target tests had been sent to a lab in Germany as it has a world leading test to detect ‘peptide’ use. According to Dr Harcourt “nothing came out of it”, or in other words, these targeted tests run specifically for peptides all came back negative.
There’s so many questions that arise from that single paragraph it’s difficult to know where to begin. First, the AFL knew during the 2012 season that Essendon were running a supplements program worrying enough to target test them? This despite Andrew Demetriou repeatedly denying knowledge of Essendon’s program prior to them self reporting, and any knowledge of which club the Australian Crime Commission was referring to in its report that he was briefed on in late January 2013?
Remember Demetriou’s constant denials that he ‘tipped off’ David Evans that Essendon were the team that the ACC were investigating thus forcing the club to “self report”, with his reasoning that he never knew which club was being investigated?
Presumably that’s now going to be a difficult stance to maintain, or otherwise raises serious questions about the governance of the AFL during the same period they were castigating Essendon over its own governance. If I were Mr Demetriou, I’d be as far from Melbourne as a plane could take me right now.
Second, the AFL knew enough to target test the players and have their samples sent to a German lab specifically to have them tested for peptides, yet seemingly didn’t think that warning the club and/or the players or at least having a discussion with them to clarify their program might be a good idea?
Here’s an interesting poser, if the players are contracted directly to the AFL as Dr Harcourt asserts, and the AFL rightly or wrongly suspected there was a potentially harmful supplements program being undertaken on the players yet did little to stop or curtail it – who exactly is responsible for the duty of care to those players wellbeing that we’ve heard so much about?
Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the AFL had ASADA target test the Essendon players presumably while the supplements program was in full swing, had ASADA send the samples to the most advanced peptide testing lab in the world, and all the tests came back negative?
That surely strengthens Essendon and the players contention that no illegal substances were taken (though of course doesn’t dismiss any other evidence), while asking yet more questions of the AFL. Like for example, out of all the information disclosed and all the leaks so damaging to the players, club and its coach, did they not think the public might be interested in that fact?
This wasn’t just the players randomly not getting tested at the right times and therefore getting lucky, this was target testing undertaken specifically to test for the exact breaches ASADA allege may have occurred, and in Dr Harcourt’s words “nothing came of it”.
I keep forgetting that seemingly only damaging information to Essendon and its coach was leaked during the investigation; I wonder why that was?
Also in the media goldmine of a presentation (you seriously have to ask yourself what in the hell Dr Harcourt was thinking, to borrow a phrase he used in his speech) was the revelation that the AFL were at the time setting up 5 year health monitoring on the players to track any potential health issues such as hormonal issues or cancers from the ‘probable’ PED use.
This was newsworthy if only for his specific use of the term ‘cancers’, after all the health monitoring of the players has been publicly reported numerous times. It also raised some privacy issues which I assume the good doctor is currently being asked. Certainly health risks to players are nothing to be taken lightly, though they have been discussed at great lengths previously so as far as ‘newsworthy’ items to come out of this presentation this nugget was a fair way down the list.
There was also a revelation that presumably no one has yet had time to address, that being that the AFL had to ‘retire‘ 3 players due to illicit drug addiction.
Wow. Presuming there are some more privacy issues there, among several other issues. I wonder how that conversation with the players in question went?
So out of all that, what did The Age choose to run as their banner headline and main story on the revelations? Need you even ask at this point.
CANCER FEARS FOR ESSENDON PLAYERS; TESTS WILL CONTINUE FOR MANY YEARS.
The piece by Jon Pierik, the Age journo who has seemingly picked up the tabloid Essendon desk in Caroline Wilson’s absence, focused firmly on Dr Harcourt’s mention of health monitoring moving forward and used hearsay like “Rival clubs had suspicions of Essendon’s supplements program” and “the Blues were suspicious of the rapid physical development of some Bomber players” rather than focusing on the explosive (to borrow a popular Age phrase) goldmine of factual information Dr Harcourt released.
Pierik even rehashed all of Dr Harcourt’s emotive phrases as quotes, yet seemingly didn’t think to question the role of a Doctor publicly releasing specific potential health issues of 35 players.
This was clickbait of the worst kind, which is in keeping with much of The Age’s coverage of the saga thus far. The journalist had two distinct choices, either go the tabloid route and further play the moral outrage card, or focus on what were actual relevant and extremely telling facts released in the same presentation.
In making his choice Pierik completely missed the actual story that is continuing to break, while the Herald Sun and The Australian both got it. I’m sure The Age got their short term clicks though, and gave the shouters something else to shout about.
Somehow the ‘tabloid’ Melbourne paper get the story while still discussing the ‘cancer’ revelations, yet the former (no coincidence) broadsheet couldn’t manage to control themselves.
There are many more twists and turns to come in this story, but I don’t imagine Dr Peter Harcourt is a popular man with pretty much anyone involved in the saga on any side at this point. Serious questions need to be asked as to why the league’s Chief Medical Officer would even be discussing possible findings of what was still an open investigation at that time, and how several of his presumptions could be viewed as anything other than prejudicial.
We await with interest any questions soon to be asked AFL Integrity Officer Brett Clothier, who co-authored a paper on the same topic with Dr Harcourt earlier this year.