Essendon fans are angry at their treatment by the Australian Crime Commission and the investigation into drugs and administration. And the media is also in fans’ sights.
Could the Australian Crime Commission’s infamous report into drugs in Australian sport — which lacks specific evidence — be on the verge of collapse?
Just two weeks after the famous six-headed press conference featuring the chiefs of Australia’s leading sporting bodies and two Gillard government ministers, the car crash allegations contained in the ACC tome have taken on a whiff of unreality.
Football fans distraught at the public shaming of their teams are complaining that the mud thrown their way by the ACC has failed to stick — in the case of AFL club Essendon, slowly sliding off the Bombers’ fuselage and leaving an icky stain in its wake.
As Crikeynoted at the time, the initial six-headed Parliament House press conference featuring hardman rhetoric from new federal Justice Minister Jason Clare prompted an outpouring of “darkest day” headlines stretching around the country.
In a swingeing post on fan forum BomberBlitz this week, blogger Jason Hannigan exposed some of the hyperbole surrounding the media’s reporting of the Dons’ situation, especially the inference coach and club legend James Hird had denied knowledge of an injection program overseen by sports scientist Steve Dank. In fact, Hird has never denied knowledge of a program and has only said he believed his players were “clean” — that is, the supplement program fell within the allowable limits mandated by the AFL and World Anti-Doping Agency.
Hannigan also notes the storm of shock horror reporting from the likes of Caroline Wilson over drug “waivers” signed by players, even though it subsequently emerged, via 232-game stalwart and silky smooth disposal king Mark McVeigh, that players had actually requested the waivers themselves.
Further, Hannigan cites the testimony of Dr Robin Willcourt from South Yarra’s Epigenx centre, who told Crikey on February 6 he had been visited by Dank and Dean “The Weapon” Robinson early last year and was presented with players’ blood work. The samples suggested stars had been overworked in the 2012 pre-season and had flagging levels of testosterone and growth hormone levels. A number of devastating injuries over 2012 — including David Zaharakis’ ridiculous three-month absence with a quad injury — seemed to suggest players had lower (not higher) levels of naturally occurring substances in their veins.
The ACC’s CEO John Lawler has copped plenty of criticism over the timing of his report given that substantial investigations still need to be carried out by state and federal police forces to actually secure convictions. It appears Victoria Police received the report five months ago but failed to act citing a lack of evidence.
But the damage for Essendon’s season has already been done. In an episode of Sunday Extra this week, Peter Faris accused the “permanent Royal Commission” of severe over-reach with secrecy provisions giving it a licence to run roughshod over principles of natural justice.
This morning in The Australian, Melbourne reporter Chip Le Grand — ironically one of the targets of Hannigan’s ire on BomberBlitz — noted correctly that the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s probe into the sport had been conducted by former OPI operations director John Nolan. The ACC’s probe and subsequent report was overseen by former OPI deputy director Paul Jevtovic.
During its 12-year reign before being shuttered by the Baillieu government, the OPI was criticised for its bullish approach to investigations backed by extraordinary powers to compel witnesses to answer questions. However, like the ACC, there was arguably a serious lack of oversight and internal accountability.
*Disclosure: Andrew Crook is an Essendon supporter