A Year Of Exile For Australian Football League's James Hird, Essendon Examined
Australian Football League Chair Mike Fitzpatrick described the Essendon supplements scandal as "the worst thing ever to happen at a football club," according to Chip Le Grand of THE AUSTRALIAN. What was "publicly presented" as a meeting of the AFL Commission to hear charges against Essendon and its officials "arising from the club's use and misuse of supplements" during the '12 season is "variously described by lawyers involved in the case as a debacle, a humiliation, a circus, a farce." The case "was decided not by weight of evidence." The biggest scandal in football "ended with a sheet of foolscap paper passed to a bleary-eyed James Hird seated inside the AFL boardroom." On the sheet of paper, human rights lawyer Julian Burnside had written two words: "Yes. No." With the AFL Commission seated before him, "oblivious to the dramatic turn that events were about to take," Hird considered the paper and, without a word, circled "Yes." He would "accept a 12-month ban from coaching and drop his legal challenge against the AFL." The "crisis was over." Whether Hird and the other Essendon officials did the right thing in accepting the AFL's terms of settlement is "something that still gnaws at those who have carefully examined the case against them." Hird's solicitor, Steve Amendola, said, "At the end of the day we blinked. We blinked for all sorts of reasons. For Hird, it related fundamentally to wanting to be under the umbrella of the club, to coach again at some point, to just bring it to an end. It was an absolutely close-run thing. But in the game of chicken, we blinked" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 12/5).
VEIL OF SECRECY: In Sydney, Rebecca Wilson reported further revelations outlining details of the subterfuge surrounding the Essendon doping scandal "prove that the AFL should not have had the jurisdiction to prosecute" Hird or anyone else from the Essendon support staff. From the moment Essendon was informed it was the club involved, the AFL and the club "have hidden crucial details of the investigations and their findings." The secrecy "became second nature" -- six months of it -- and culminated in the involvement of Australian Sports Commission Chair John Wylie. AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou "repeatedly refuted, denied and misled the media" throughout the Essendon saga. His last ditch attempt to keep the facts a secret prove that a professional sport must be subject to the same rules as everyone else -- "play out the facts in a courtroom and see if the same result ensues" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 12/4).
CLEARING THE AIR: In Sydney, Deborah Gough reported Demetriou has denied Hird is on a "paid holiday." Demetriou: "There's no deal... The deal is what was announced on the day (of the AFL Commission Meeting). There were ongoing negotiations… He’s not on full pay. It is suspension without pay." Demetriou admitted that "there were discussions" between Wylie and Essendon Chair Paul Little before the AFL Commission hearing into the supplements scandal, but "disputed details" in News Limited reports published overnight. Demetriou: "There are always negotiations before any hearing..." He admitted that AFL employees, including Gillon McLachlan, "had discussions with Essendon and Hird before the AFL Commission hearing, but insisted he had no knowledge of the substance of such meetings" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 12/4).
DELIVERING A WARNING: In Melbourne, Jon Pierik reported Demetriou "has delivered a sobering warning" to Essendon's players, declaring that they "could still be hit with infraction notices as a result of the club's controversial supplements program." Asked if there was any guarantee the players would escape sanction, with the investigation now into its 11th month, Demetriou said, ''There is absolutely no guarantee. We have been very clear and transparent in this that this is an ongoing matter for ASADA. They have said very clearly that they left the case open, that they plan at some point in time to talk with Stephen Dank and whoever else they plan to talk to, and on that basis the matter is still open'' (THE AGE, 12/5).