If you were on an AFL list what would you do?

In all the commentary and opinions relating to Essendon these past few days, there was one Twitter comment from former cyclist Katherine Bates that piqued my interest, it stated, “What goes into the body is the athlete’s responsibility. In this case they were grossly let down by trusted advisors.”

To which someone replied, “No good to trust your advisors the athlete has to question everything.”


But then the question was asked of me, if I was in a team environment namely the AFL and my club instructed me to take these supplements, would I?

Thinking about it, I would have to show trust in my club and team mates and presume my Club would not do anything to transgress the strict anti-doping code. If my club happened to be Essendon and found guilty then I would be cursing myself for being so trusting. But trust is what makes a team work efficiently.

We know what happened to Ahmed Saad and his eighteen month ban for not being fully aware of substances in a drink and also to Ryan Crowley, ignorance is no excuse, you must know what you are taking and if in any doubt ask your club.

But when the club asks you to be part of a supplement program, did any of the Bombers players ask exactly what am I taking?

Did anyone stand up out of the pack and question this? We know that Essendon believed they were on the cutting edge and have no real idea what it was the players took but that it was supposed to be legal(?).

The Court of Arbitration for Sport was comfortably satisfied that the substance injected was the banned thymosin beta 4.

A substance provided by a sporting organisation to a team of players.

How is this different to what the Russian Athletics Federation provided to its athletes?

The athletes were banned and the federation is on the verge of an Olympic ban.

Sydney Olympic athlete Marion Jones was banned from her sport for taking a substance provided by her coach.

In the 1998 Tour de France, Team Festina was discovered with EPO, cyclists suspended and team officials fined.

Worksafe Victoria has already found the Bombers guilty of having an unsafe workplace, now the players are guilty of being injected with illegal PEDs supplied by the Club, what happens to Essendon? (Yes I know the AFL has dealt them financial penalties).

Here is the challenge for you almanackers, what would you do if you were an aspiring AFL player? Would you take what was given to you or would you challenge it?

Is the team environment more difficult to challenge your coach than if an individual?

And finally, just to stir up the pot, should Essendon also be banned for twelve months for providing illegal substances to its players?

About David Parker

A keen observer of all things sport and a Swans tragic, David likes to dabble in sporting documentaries including the Max Bailey doco for Fox Footy. David is currently filming a documentary on the Australian Cycling Men's Team Pursuit squad as they prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics.


  1. Dave Brown says

    To be honest David, particularly as an 18 year old I would take my medicine. But I also like to think that I would later also take my medicine. Sure it’s unfortunate that these guys are at least partially paying for trusting their club but they also need to acknowledge that the buck stops with them.

  2. Cat from the Country says

    The Essendon players are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
    If your club tells you to be part of a trial and you say “No”, are there not repercussions for defying the club direction?
    I read somewhere that one player did not comply, but do we know what happened to him?
    Is is a sad and sorry spectacle and Management need to take responsibility for the damage done to players (loss of a year of play) and the respectability of the Club!

  3. Agree with the broad thrust of your argument David, and the only meaningful sanction in sport is against the participants. Otherwise everyone takes the Nuremburg defence right up the chain of command.
    Legally the players are responsible, and on another thread the issue of contributory negligence was raised. The lawyers will grow fat on this for years, unless Essendon and the AFL set up a substantial compensation fund for loss of income this year.
    I see that as morally fair because the players were actively lied to and deceived by their employers. Maybe they didn’t do enough, but when they did any questioning they were fobbed off with lies and deception.
    On a moral responsibility scale the players are at 1. Hird and the Essendon board and senior management are 10. Thompson and some of the assistants are 8. Dr Reid is 3.
    Also – just be careful with using the word “illegal”. There is no criminality here in relation to the laws of the land. TB4 is not a prohibited drug or import to have and use in Australia. It is prohibited under international sporting codes established to ensure fair competition.

  4. Thanks Peter on the language advice, you are right TB4 is not illegal, but unapproved by WADA, I accept the distinction.

  5. Scott McIntyre says

    Having looked at the published findings of the inquiry, I find it hard to go along with the line that the players were innocent victims in all this.

    One of the published findings was that, having been advised that they were going to be injected with a particular substance, the individual players made no attempt to independently find out anything whatsoever about the substance, it’s legal status, it’s properties, nothing. They didn’t ask the club doctor, their private GPs, they didn’t even do so much as a basic Google search. To me, that demonstrates an almost spectacular degree of laxity in attempting to meet their professional obligations with respect to anti-doping.

    Secondly, during the period when this “supplements program” was in place, the players were incredibly secretive about it. When, in their routine disclosure procedures around anti-doping they were listing the substances they were taking, the players did not volunteer that they were involved in the “supplements program” even though they later on insisted that they fully believed that what they were doing was completely legal. That makes no sense whatsoever.

    I broadly go along with the idea that the club should also cop 12 months, because this was obviously a club-sanctioned debacle. However, I’m not sure what you then do with the other 30 players on the Essendon list, who effectively cop a 12 month ban for doing nothing.

  6. Andrew Weiss says

    It is obvious that as a player you can say no to something even if most of the team is doing it and the club is encouraging it. David Zaharakis did because as the story goes he is afraid of needles. The best thing that can come out of this scenario is that the AFLPA stands up and demands the AFL that they bring in a rule that before anything is given to players it must be given the all clear by the AFL and the AFLPA. Surely this would protect players from this happening again.

  7. John Butler says

    Does the idea of the club doctor stand up any more? Or are they always at risk of being overridden by the competitive instincts of coach and player? Time for the players to be treated by doctors independent of individual clubs?

    Good stuff David.

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