AFL Boots Essendon From Finals, Fines Club, Suspends Hird In Doping Scandal
The Australian Football League Commission has kicked Essendon out of the '13 finals and fined it A$2M ($1.8M), with coach James Hird "agreeing to a 12-month ban," according to Courtney Walsh of THE AUSTRALIAN. It was the decision by Hird "to accept a penalty that led to the resolutions" Monday night. Hird "had previously vowed to clear his name and last week" issued a Supreme Court writ against the AFL after the publication of damaging and embarrassing allegations. His acceptance of the penalty potentially "ends the career of a man who held one of the most decorated reputations in the game until the scandal broke in February." When addressing possible sanctions on Saturday night, "he had indicated a desire to return." AFL Chair Mike Fitzpatrick and CEO Andrew Demetriou also announced the Bombers "would be subjected to potentially crippling draft sanctions," with the club banned from participating in the first two rounds of November's national draft and the second round of the '14 draft (THE AUSTRALIAN, 8/27).
FALL FROM GRACE: In Sydney, Caroline Wilson reported after "the most dramatic day in AFL history," one of the game's most revered figures admitted that he had brought the game into disrepute and abandoned his Supreme Court action against the league and Demetriou. Demetriou: ''This is the most significant sanction in AFL history." Fitzpatrick said, ''The AFL Commission shares [AFL fans'] anger, and frustration that the 2013 season has too often been dominated by headlines we'd rather not see.'' In an "unprecedented fall from grace" for a Brownlow medalist, Hall of Famer and Norm Smith medalist, Hird "has become the first senior coach in the game's history to be forced out of football for 12 months." Hird "can hold no role at the club for the next year and cannot be paid by the club" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 8/28). REUTERS' Ransom & Chakraborty reported Manager Danny Corcoran "was banned for six months, two months of which is suspended, while assistant coach Mark Thompson received a fine" of A$30,000. Club doctor Bruce Reid "will fight on Thursday the charges that were levied against him" (REUTERS, 8/27).
EXPRESSING REMORSE: BLOOMBERG's Dan Baynes reported Essendon Chair Paul Little said that the club’s acceptance of the sanctions "recognized failings that had occurred during the supplement program." Little: "The admissions relate to governance and people management, not the administration of prohibited or harmful substances. Importantly, there is no allegation of drug cheating." Demetriou said Hird had apologized to the commission for his role in the saga and had appeared to be "genuinely remorseful" (BLOOMBERG, 8/27). The HERALD SUN published a complete list of all the charges against Essendon, Hird, Thompson and Corcoran (HERALD SUN, 8/27).
MAKING A STATEMENT: In Canberra, Peter Hanlon reported Fitzpatrick took 10 minutes to read a statement "the likes of which the game has never heard, and then he reached the bottom line." Fitzpatrick said the judgment brought down by the AFL Commission ''is a powerful and enduring affirmation that no single club or individual is above our great game." In speaking of the ''fundamental principles that guide our code,'' Fitzpatrick "put up in lights the point that has often been ignored in this most hysterical of seasons." Two of those principles "are non-negotiable" -- the health and safety of the players, and the overall integrity of the competition -- and Essendon "flew in the face of both" (CANBERRA TIMES, 8/28).
HIRD'S FUTURE: In Canberra, Samantha Lane reported Essendon "was not authorised to accept penalties on behalf of the four individuals charged with conduct unbecoming, which meant Hird's options were to accept a sanction from the AFL, or disrupt the competition further by taking his grievances elsewhere." In the end, he chose the former, "despite saying in a post-match media conference on Saturday night that he disputed '99 per cent' of the charges against him" (CANBERRA TIMES, 8/28). In Melbourne, Jon Pierik reported Essendon "is already in deep negotiations" with Hird "to return to the top role" once his 12-month suspension is complete on Aug. 25. Little said that Hird, whose four-year contract expires after the '14 season, "would be back to coach for the finals next year should the Bombers make the top eight." The Bombers and Hird "have all but agreed to a two-year extension." Little said that the club "had already had three coaches prepared to accept the role for 12 months." He said that "former coaching great Kevin Sheedy was among those prepared to assist the club" (THE AGE, 8/28).
TIMELINE OF EVENTS: Also in Melbourne, Matt Murnane reported Essendon legend Tim Watson has accused the AFL of "engineering" the timeline of the supplements scandal to ensure it ended in the week before the finals, and no sooner. Watson, the father of Bombers captain Jobe Watson, said on Channel Seven's Talking Footy that "he believed the investigation into the Bombers controversial supplements program -- jointly undertaken by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the AFL -- had been completed 'a long time ago'" (THE AGE, 8/27).
BOOKMAKERS PAY OUT: Also in Melbourne, Matt Windley reported the AFL's decision to boot Essendon out of the finals "will not short-change punters." Major online betting agencies Sportsbet, Betstar, Sportingbet Australia and Centrebet declared that they "would pay out as winning bets Essendon making the top eight as well as not making the top eight." Refunds "will be provided for bets placed on the Bombers in various futures markets, including making the Grand Final and winning the premiership" (HERALD SUN, 8/27).