In a conclusion that was both dramatic and anticlimactic, the AFL Commission finally came to a decision -- one that involved penalties the likes of which have never been levied before.
The Commission announced the penalties shortly before 6 pm on Tuesday. The sanctions on Essendon include a ban from the 2013 finals series, forfeiture of its picks in the first two rounds of the national draft, and a $2 million fine on the club. Essendon will also forego the first round of the 2014 draft, but the fate of its succeeding picks are still unsettled.
Under fire Essendon Bombers coach James Hird
"I want to send a clear an unequivocal message: that nothing and no-one comes ahead of the duty of care of players," AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick told the media late Tuesday night.
However, the statement fell short of condemning the club, acknowledging that neither Hird nor club management deliberately set out to give banned substances to players:
"The AFL acknowledges that neither the Essendon Football Club or any of the individuals charged set out to implement a supplements program that would result in players being administered prohibited or potentially harmful substances.
However, the Essendon Football Club today acknowledged it had established a supplements program that was experimental, inappropriate and inadequately vetted and controlled ... it failed to adequately protect the health, welfare and safety of the players.
Secondly, there was a risk that Essendon players could have been administered substances prohibited by the AFL anti-doping code and the world anti-doing code. Any such risk is an unacceptable risk.
Thirdly, the Essendon Football Club is unable now to determine whether the players were administered some substances by the AFL anti-doping code and the world anti-doping code."
For his part, coach James Hird was given a twelve-month ban from coaching, and was barred from holding any position at any AFL club during the said period. Likewise, manager Danny Corcoran was given a 6-month ban, two of them under suspension, from Oct. 1. Assistant coach Mark Thompson was given a $30,000 fine, while team doctor Bruce Reid's fate will be decided on Thursday.
In a dramatic turn of events, Hird took responsibility for the club's violations, and stated that he will not push through with the legal action he started on Wednesday. It seemed that the penalties had finally broken the Hall of Famer's back; Hird will be the first senior coach in AFL history to be forced out in the manner described.
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