Lawyers, Drugs and Money: An Easter Homily

Modern life is too complicated.  Who understands the Middle East; the oil price; the $US or homicidal airline pilots?

That is a major part of the appeal of sport.  It is a modern morality play that is supposed to operate in ways we can understand and endorse.

Skill, talent, hard work and effort are rewarded.  We understand who the ‘good guys’ are and why they keep winning, even when they aren’t ‘our guys’.

Sport is a parallel universe in which good generally triumphs, as it often doesn’t in life.  That is what I find most distasteful about the Essendon doping verdict.

It reminds me that big commercial sport exists in the same murky world of lawyers, semantics and precise definitions.

Look at the dismal track record of ASIC prosecutions of corporate sharks.  The greedy, naïve and stupid get caught – the foreign exchange trader who shares insider information with his best mate.  They are the Saad, Keefe and Thomas of the corporate world.  Too dumb and obvious to defend, and offering a convenient front for the “tough on drugs/crime” charlatans.

The big end of town has complex corporate structures; myriad transactions and arms-length advisers who give ‘plausible deniability’ to the really big frauds.

Like ASADA, the corporate regulator battles through the fog of legislation written by lawyers for lawyers.  It is a futile attempt to prove the bleeding obvious beyond a reasonable doubt.  We dismiss ASIC and ASADA as fools, when in truth they are given a fool’s errand.

My disappointment in the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal verdict isn’t because it was unexpected, but because it confirms what I already feared.  My parallel sporting universe of Batman versus The Penguin has morphed into Enron, HIH and One-Tel.

Some businesses are too big to fail.  What Goldman Sachs was to Wall Street, Essendon is to the AFL.  You don’t need an overt conspiracy to hide the facts, because the big end of town doesn’t leave fingerprints.

Refuse a breath test and I’ll get a worse penalty than being over the limit, but keep no records of a systematic program of mass injections and it’s a “deplorable absence of records in the program relating to its administration”.  Wet lettuce all round.

If you owe the bank $10,000 and can’t pay – you’ve got a problem.  With its commercial sponsors and billion dollar media rights the AFL knew it had the problem – not Essendon.

In the wake of today’s verdict I am glad for the players who were duped by the powerful and blinded by ambition.  But I am sad for the game and how it has traded integrity and participation for power and money.

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “what are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. (Matthew 26:15)

Easter greetings to the AFL and it’s commercial partners.




  1. Neil Anderson says

    Wonderful summary and parody of how hopeless and out- of- touch with what is really going on and how disengaged the humble footy- fan is feeling.
    I couldn’t help but think of the great-unwashed crowd in the ‘Life Of Brian’ holding up their sandals waiting for their new messiah to speak and lead them to the promised land.
    We have become so remote from those who control and manipulate our great game it’s no wonder we long for the good old days from the 1950’s to 1970”s.
    I am waiting to hear an honest response from Essendon after being accused of undertaking an extensive ‘injection regime’ .

  2. Jake Norton says

    Setting aside the sanctimonious nature of this piece, it is more than a little contradictory: how can one have “disappointment in the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal verdict” but be “glad for the players”? Didn’t the tribunal’s decision regard the players wholly and solely?

    It also insinuates that Judge Jones is guilty of corruption. Not sure how wise treading that clearly incorrect path is.

    I welcome any piece examining the erosion of the spirit of the game by commercialism – a concept with which I completely agree – but attempting to use this issue to do that is wide of the mark. Out of bounds on the full, if you will.

  3. Personally, I don’t find this sanctimonious or contradictory. I think it is quite feasible to have the dichotomy (if that’s the right word) of being glad for the players but disappointed in the verdict. I have myself, unfortunately, been a victim of “lawyer speak semantics” in a couple of legal matters where a wrong decision (in my opinion) was made because of convenient technicalities. That’s not to say the judge was corrupt (even though I expect they do exist), the lawyers were just rather clever at interpreting the existing law, and presenting it to the judge in a particular way. I expect Judge Jones interpreted the law correctly. That does not necessarily mean that the right decision was made, in some people’s eyes.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with Ryan Crowley. Unknowingly or unwisely taking a panadeine (if that is what happened) can hardly be compared to a systematic injections program, especially when the documentation is “lost”.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic and overall correct article , the only difference I have is I am not happy for the players they are responsible for what goes in to there body . The best example I have of this is Alison Peek ( gold medal winning hockeyroo in Sydney ) who when I first met her would come and watch a bar person pour her drink , EVERY time just to make sure nothing untoward happened and yet footballers go off sight to be injected don’t question it , rediculous

  5. Tom Martin says

    First, a declaration. I am a lawyer. Sue me.

    My experience of regulatory prosecutions or inquiries, an area In which I specialise, is that the law is seldom an impediment to justice.

    PB’s observations about the impotence of regulators is well made. But the impotence generally stems from incompetence, rather than any deficiency in the regulator’s power to investigate, the legal criteria for liability, or judicial error.

    This is not to say that the individuals or authoriities who carry out regulatory functions are not necessarily doing their job faithfully and diligently. The fundamental issues are funding (an etymological leash and not mere punnery, for the observant) and focus.

    I know practically nothing about the facts of this case, the investigative process, or what was presented to the tribunal of fact. I sit comfortably in the vast majority in that respect.

    Leaving ASADA, WADA and the Federal Government to one side, the AFL has ultimate authority over its competition and all clubs. But nagging doubts remain over whether the AFL has the stomach to manage performance enhancing drug use in a manner consistent with other elite sports.

    PB’s striking analogy of the ‘thirty pieces of silver’ could equally be applied to the need for proper funding of regulators as to the the compromised position of our administrators.

    Thanks PB.

  6. “The guilty think all talk is of themselves.”
    – Geoffrey Chaucer.

  7. Brad Carr says

    Peter, when this saga commenced, my view was that the Essendon players should be allowed to carry on but that the club should be suspended – that the club should have its AFL license revoked or suspended for 5 years, and that the players should go into draft (on their existing contracts) and get distributed to other clubs (GWS and Melbourne would have benefitted enormously). I have seen little in the last 2 years to change that view.

    Whilst that action on the club sounds drastic, it is exactly what would have happened in any other sporting competition in the world. Italian soccer relegated Juventus for a match-fixing scandal; Scottish soccer did the same to Rangers for a financial breach. And then there’s professional cycling teams…

    Your too-big-to-fail analogy is an interesting one then. Is the truth of it that the AFL’s financial position (inclusive of its collective clubs, debt-ridden and dependent on hand-outs) is so precarious that it needs to let its popular clubs off the hook for their breaches (just as it needs to rig the draw, make sure Sydney’s always strong, cover up selected players’ indiscretions, etc)? That besides the (sadly insignificant) matter of principle, Italian and Scottish soccer are each strong enough to survive without one of their biggest clubs, but that the AFL’s house of cards is a bit too vulnerable to be able to do the same…??

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