Almost three years since the Essendon Football Club called a press conference admitting that it did not know what substances had been administered to its players in 2012, the 34 men involved have been dealt the final blow from the international Court of Arbitration for Sport. The 34 players, 12 of whom are still at Essendon, and others who have since retired or moved to other clubs, have been found guilty of doping.

The Essendon players maintain that they did not believe they were breaking the rules, and while this makes their situation even more regrettable, it is not a defence that holds up in any other court, and it doesn’t hold up here.

Essendon has already pleaded guilty to WorkSafe charges over the supplements program for failing to provide a working environment and system of work without risks to health.

Its own report into the governance of the 2012 supplements program found a “pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or tested”.

The Essendon case will one day be looked upon as “what not to do” for sports clubs around the world, from the original supplements regime allowing players to be used as guinea pigs for untested substances to how it responded to the crisis in the years since the fateful 2012 season, with James Hird bullishly fighting his appeal in the Federal Court.

Years and millions of dollars later, is this the end of the saga? Unlikely, with the potential for more lawsuits — this time from players against the club or the AFL.

The club failed its players, its fans and the game. Players and fans of the sport, not just of Essendon, have a right to be angry and disappointed.

Peter Fray

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