Essendon football club’s coach, James Hird has been finally charged by the AFL for conduct bringing the game into disrepute following the report into the club’s doping scandal. Club doctor Bruce Reid, assistant coach Mark Thompson and football boss Danny Corcoran joined Hird before the AFL tribunal on August 26. The Bombers were fined $2 million and suspended from the 2013 finals, while Hird has been banned until August 25 2014, Corcoran has been banned for 6 months and Thompson has been fined $30,000. The Herald Sun reports that prior to the hearing, Hird and his colleagues were determined to vigorously defend against the charges laid against them, and quote Hird as saying, "We're gonna contend the charges, we're gonna make sure we're proven not guilty,” however in a recent press conference following the charges, Hird apologised and admitted that he “should have known what was going on, should have done more” and is “deeply disappointed” that he did not.
The charges relate to the club’s supplement program initiated by controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank in January 2012, and the finding that Hird failed to take heed of warnings issued by the AFL about investigating whether the program was not in compliance with the AFL Anti-Doping Code. AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick told the ABC that the club was not aware of whether players were administered substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Code, and therefore the club “failed to ensure it adequately protected the health and welfare and safety of the players”. Fitzpatrick said that Essendon acknowledged that it had failed in its duty of care towards its players, but said that the neither club nor Hird had intended to administer “prohibited or potentially harmful substances.” Failing to respond to the AFL’s warnings against the use of peptides in a supplement program was a risk that Fitzpatrick labelled “unacceptable”, and AFL boss Andrew Demetriou voiced his concerns for the long-term health of the players as a result of being injected with “unknown substances” under Dank’s program.
While the World Anti-Doping Authority demands an athlete be responsible for all substances ingested, the club and its officials are also under a legal obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of players. This obligation is embodied in a statutory duty of care owed under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 by employers to their employees. Given professional footballers are employees of their club, and the supplements administered were in the context of players (employees) at work, it remains to be seen as to whether Worksafe Victoria take an interest in the Essendon supplements scandal.