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BREAKING NEWS: AFL threatens ASADA split if key documents in Essendon drugs saga are made public

Philip Nelson

Mar 12, 2018 — MICHAEL WARNER,
Herald Sun
12 MARCH 2018

THE AFL has threatened to cut ties with ASADA if key documents in the Essendon supplements saga are made public.

The move, which could jeopardise millions of dollars in federal government funding for the league, was signalled in an affidavit filed by AFL integrity unit chief Tony Keane in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on Friday.

The AFL has joined ASADA in fighting a Freedom of Information request made by a member of the public seeking access to doping control forms signed by Bombers players between August 2011 and September 2012.

“If the application is successful ... I anticipate that the AFL would give serious consideration to engaging an ­alternative supplier for the conduct of the testing required in connection with the AFL’s anti-doping program,” Keane told the tribunal, citing ASADA’s strict confidentiality obligations.

But the Herald Sun can ­reveal banned Bomber Nathan Lovett-Murray has joined the stoush to have the doping ­control forms released.

Lovett-Murray’s agent, Peter Jess, said the forms were being protected to cover up “serious flaws” in the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s findings that the Essendon players had colluded by failing to disclose the use of substances administered by sports scientist Stephen Dank.

“It is Nathan’s understanding that the dates of the doping control tests are crucial because most of the players’ tests were conducted before Thymosin beta-4 was available from a known source in Australia,” Jess said.

“Nathan considers it in the public interest that all relevant details surrounding the dates of his doping test be made available.”

The AFL was forced into a humiliating backdown 12 years ago when it threatened to walk away from the World Anti-Doping Agency drug code over a dispute about penalties imposed for the use of illicit substances like cannabis.

While the AFL could remain WADA-compliant if samples collected by an independent agency were processed at a WADA-endorsed lab, the move would be certain to test relations with Canberra.

“The AFL is not obliged to retain ASADA for the purpose of conducting doping control tests but elects to do so,” Keane said in the affidavit.

“The AFL values highly the relationship that it has with ASADA ... that said, I am aware that there are private companies in Australia that offer the types of services that the AFL requires in connection with its conduct of the anti-doping (program).

“I anticipate that such private companies would not be an ‘agency’ for the purpose of the FOI Act (or other freedom of information legislation) and as such they would not be subject to a request of the nature of the underlying application.”

The FOI request is restricted to the names and dates of the urine and blood tests conducted by ASADA officers on Essendon players, with all other information redacted.

But Keane told the tribunal the AFL was concerned their release could “compromise the efficacy” of the anti-doping program.

The AFL integrity boss said they could also “subject a player to stigmatism and-or ridicule” because they were “obliged to list all prescription and non-prescription medications taken by them in the previous seven days”.

“Which, for example, may relate to the player’s undisclosed physical and/or mental illness, sexual dysfunction, medication for which a player has a Therapeutic Use Exemption etc,” Keane said.

Jess said the release of the forms would demonstrate that players including Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Mark McVeigh, Brent Prismall and Lovett-Murray had nothing to declare at the time they were drug tested.

“The alleged collusion simply did not take place,” Jess said.

In finding the players guilty of doping in January 2016, the CAS panel declared: “The complete failure of the vast majority of players who had to fill in a doping control form during the season to reveal the receipt of injections does not encourage confidence in their statements as to the limited or sporadic nature of what they were injected with”.

A separate Supreme Court hearing into the five-year drugs saga will be held on the eve of the Richmond-Carlton season-opener on March 21.

Human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, QC, is leading a case brought against AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and former commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick alleging misleading and deceptive conduct.
In no other country has anti-doping been discussed so often by so many. The case for a wide ranging and forward looking anti-doping inquiry is more compelling in Australia than in any other country. Justice for the 34 renews its call for a Senate or Independent inquiry into anti-doping with wide ranging terms of reference which allow all sporting bodies, all athletes, and all interested parties to make representations.

It’s in the national interest.

Support an independent inquiry to sort this mess out.

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