The football media was sent into overdrive on Tuesday morning, as a swarm of rumours speculated that the AFL would soon make an announcement regarding the Essendon Football Club’s doping scandal.
After hours of prolonged waiting, Andrew Dillon, the AFL General Counsel, made the announcement that the Essendon Football Club, coach James Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, football manager Danny Corcoran, and club doctor Bruce Reid would all be charged by the AFL.
“The club and each person are all charged with engaging in conduct that is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the Australian Football League or to bring the game of football into disrepute, contrary to rule 1.6,” Dillion said.
“I have reviewed the information collected during the course of the joint AFL-ASADA investigation, considered the matter carefully and have come to the view the parties charged have a case to answer.”
Rule 1.6 aims to protect the sport from anything that may damage its reputation. Bringing the game into disrepute is a very serious charge, and is one that the AFL does not treat lightly.
The rule is defined as follows:
Where the Commission is of the opinion that a person (or club) has contravened the provisions of the Memorandum or Articles of Association or the AFL Regulations or the AFL Player Rules or has been involved in conduct which is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute, the Commission may deal with any such matter in such manner as the Commission in their absolute discretion think fit and without limiting their power they may:
(a) refer any matter to the Tribunal or other body or person appointed by the
(b) appoint any person to inquire into any matter;
(c) conduct their own disciplinary inquiry into any matter; and/or
(d) impose a monetary sanction as provided in these Regulations/Player Rules
One part of the rule that could play an important part in the Essendon case is what constitutes as ‘unbecoming conduct’. If the shady allegations and practices from Windy Hill prove true, it’s hard to see how that wouldn’t be seen as unbecoming conduct.
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) August 13, 2013
Essendon denies any wrong doing and says it will “vigorously defend” the charges.
“Now that charges have been laid, the Club and individuals involved are in a far better position to focus on understanding the specific nature of the allegations and the evidence upon which the AFL has relied to lay the charges,” said the Essendon Chairman Paul Little.
The charge of bringing the game into disrepute will be a hard one for Essendon, Hird and the co-accused to fight, as the case has received so much media attention it could argue that it has caused irreparable damage to the reputation of the AFL.
This isn’t the first time rule 1.6 has popped up in 2013. In February, the AFL heard a case where the game was allegedly brought into disrepute by the Demons for tanking back in 2009. This was a very interesting and peculiar case, as even though Melbourne was found not guilty of deliberately losing matches, it was still forced to pay $500,000 for the conduct of some of its key personnel.
Melbourne’s former football operations manager Chris Connolly had made certain comments during a pre-game meeting that were found to have been “prejudicial to the interests of the AFL”.
Dean Bailey, the coach at the time, was also found to have acted in a manner that was seen as prejudicial to the game. Connolly was banned by the AFL for 11 months, while Bailey was suspended for 16 matches.
The Melbourne tanking case will carry a precedent into the Essendon hearing. If Essendon is found not guilty, the four staff members may be suspended anyway, and the club left with an astronomical fine.
Another case where rule 1.6 was applied was back in 2007, in the infamous Ben Cousins incident. After a series of drug offences, Cousins was found to be guilty of bringing the game into disrepute and was deregistered for a year. He was only allowed to play again under a very strict drug testing program.
With all that said, one would hope that the Essendon case will be the last time rule 1.6 is put into action. During the off-season, a review of the AFL’s internal processes resulted in rule 1.6 being rebuilt as rule 2.1. However the current charges were laid under rule 1.6, as the alleged offences occurred during the 2012 playing season.
Regardless, the beginning of the end to the Essendon drug scandal has only just begun. When ASADA hands down its final report, don’t be surprised if there are more charges laid.
Essendon fans can only sit around and hope that the end to this sorry saga will come swiftly.
James Hird and his staff will be praying for the exact same thing.
(Picture: Twitter – @sunriseon7)