The immediate AFL and Evans strategy at the time of self reporting was clear and possibly in Evans’ case even noble enough : ‘no matter what’ the players needed to be spared. According to Michael Warner at the Herald Sun this week a deal was reportedly struck whereby the players were assured by those investigating that they were not the primary target of the investigation and, seemingly regardless of what the investigation turned up, they would not face sanctions. They were encouraged to openly cooperate with AFL and ASADA investigators without any real fear of repercussions and from all accounts did just that, even vaguely answering questions they did’t totally know the answers to in an effort to assist – as it now turns out to their detriment with ASADA apparently counting some extremely vague recollections as hard admissions.
For Demetriou the need for immediate clearance of the players was obvious; losing an entire team worth of players to drug suspensions would be catastrophic for the AFL as a body, it’s competition, and the lucrative media rights deal Demetriou had fought so hard to get.
Evans’ motivations aren’t quite so straight forward – certainly they could have been genuine concern and protection for the players, but doubtless he also knew that having his entire team suspended for 2 years – or as it appeared at the time from the wild speculation taking place in the media possibly even longer – could spell the end for the club he loved.
What it all added up to was simple, if the players were to be spared, the off field staff, and most vitally coach James Hird, would have to be sacrificed. And not sacrificed in a ‘good luck and here’s your golden watch’ kind of way, rather a ‘these are the evil doers of bad deeds so gather your pitchforks’ kind of way.
Enter Hird, whose main crime it appears in hindsight was wanting his club to have a better and more cutting edge supplements program than 11 other clubs around the league – but despite all the innuendo certainly wanting a legal one.
Two things really made the scapegoating of Hird both vital and possible.
Vital because it appears the AFL thought, incorrectly in hindsight (seriously you’re going to see that phrase a LOT over the coming months and years) they were going to be confronted with massive PED use by the Essendon players based on the intelligence from the ACC report. Getting ASADA to agree to a ‘no fault’ no penalty type deal was one thing, but if the players were shown to have been under a systematic doping regime using multiple illegal products for extended periods, ala East German athletics in the 70?s (such was the hysteria of the time), someone had to be blamed for it, or the public simply wouldn’t accept no sanctions on the players.
Possible because of that same deal that the AFL had struck up with ASADA. That deal being in place meant that the AFL could really go hard on building a circumstantial case using a mixture of fact, irrelevant but scandalous information, unproven intelligence and hearsay, without fear of it blowing back on the players in the shape of suspensions.
Evidence from certain people that helped build the AFL’s case was considered and included, while evidence to the contrary which helped Essendon’s case was not. It was the kind of case building that can really only be done for show and not if it’s going to be tested at trial.
It never was, of course.
Ironically this method of building the damaging yet untested so called ‘charge sheet’ may have helped lead to the players eventually getting their show causes notices from ASADA last week. The AFL’s ‘charge sheet’ built a circumstantial case of thymosin beta 4 use or attempted use as part of it’s campaign to quickly get Hird and Essendon to accept their own sanctions. Bet they wish they hadn’t included it now.
That’s from The cheap seats – I don’t know who it is – but they seem very well informed and connected.