Essendon players remain “of the strong belief” they were not administered banned substances, and are “baffled” at suggestions by Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority chief Ben McDevitt to accept a reduced ban.
Acting AFL Players Association chief Ian Prendergast confirmed on Wednesday lawyers representing the 34 current and former players issued with show-cause notices had sought an extension to the 10-day period they had initially been given to respond.
ASADA responded with a statement, declaring it was willing to consider the application.
“ASADA is always willing to consider any reasonable request by an athlete for an extension of time to lodge their submission to a show cause notice,” the statement said.
Regardless of whether ASADA grants this, the players believe the supplements program administered in 2011-12 did not involve anything illegal.
“We’re now looking for co-operation from ASADA in terms of providing the evidence that they’ve gathered since the interim report was released and players were told no cases would be prosecuted based on the evidence that existed at that time,” Prendergast said. “At this stage I’m not aware of any players who believe they’ve taken a banned substance.
“Without the evidence, I struggle to understand how a player could get his head around taking any proposed penalty as was floated by Mr McDevitt over the weekend.
“These players took all reasonable steps, they sought further information from the club in relation to the substances they were to be provided as part of the program which led to a series of meetings, and also the consent forms which were provided which clearly stated that these substances were compliant with the WADA Code and had been approved by the club doctor.
“They were also bound by their contracts to follow any legal direction by their employer being the Essendon Football Club. And their education through ASADA and the AFL says if in doubt make sure your doctor approves anything that enters your body. They followed that to the letter of the law, and I think those circumstances should absolutely be taken into consideration in this matter.”
Whether those circumstances ultimately will be taken into consideration could depend on the result of Federal Court action brought by Essendon and suspended coach James Hird.
If Essendon and Hird are successful in proving the joint investigation by the AFL and ASADA was unlawful, and the case is quashed, then the show cause notices may be voided. However, McDevitt says the case includes more evidence gathered after the joint investigation concluded in August.
He says players can come forward and, provided they admit they were duped and assist the case, could be given up to 75 per cent off a maximum two-year penalty.
Prendergast said it was impossible for players to respond to the show cause notices and prove why they should not be put on a Register of Findings until the Federal Court case was complete. Essendon’s lawyers hope the case begins within three months.
“The stay we’re requesting is for the Federal Court matter to be finally resolved, and for the players’ process to proceed in the event the process isn’t knocked out through the challenge the club has issued,” Prendergast said. “We’ve simply requested the evidence be provided for the purpose of responding to the show-cause notices.
“Largely, we’re in the dark at the moment in terms of being able to properly advise these players, who have fully cooperated through the process.
“I would think in terms of ASADA’s duty as a model litigant, they’d provide that evidence so we can give them advice based on what, if anything, has been gathered since the interim report.
“The threshold for the show-cause stage of the process is very low. It’s based on a possibility, but we would still like to see the evidence that allegation is based on.”
Prendergast said he was unsure whether the players wanted Hird to return as coach later this year but said the saga was “taking its toll” on them.
Meanwhile, Prendergast’s future with the AFLPA could be decided at a board meeting on Wednesday night. He was overlooked for the top job, with Paul Marsh, from the Australian Cricketers Association, winning out. Prendergast, who will remain at least until September, had been the general manager of player relations, before stepping up when Matt Finnis quit.
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