Australian football's biggest scandal degenerated yesterday into open warfare between Essendon and the AFL after the league released a shocking list of allegations against the club.
With AFL club presidents to be briefed today, the league released the charge sheet, which included allegations that players were given banned drugs, coach James Hird had side effects from injections and biochemist Stephen Dank continued the program for two months after being told to stop.
The document included the controversial letter from club doctor Bruce Reid which raised his concerns in January last year.
Mr Hird, who reportedly plans to sue the AFL, described the release of the charges as trial by media and an "ambush".
He said the decision to make public Dr Reid's letter was designed to damage his reputation and again called for an independent hearing.
Essendon chairman Paul Little said the club never wanted the charges released and called on AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick to take over the case.
"I, along with a significant percentage of the football public, have lost total confidence in the AFL executive to handle this matter," Mr Little said.
Mr Hird and Mr Little were adamant they would defend the allegations which include:
·Players were injected for about three months before Dr Reid wrote his letter;
·Dr Reid approved only one of 16 drugs players were given;
·Assistant coach Mark Thompson demanded the injections stop in May but Mr Dank continued the program until August;
·Players were injected with World Anti-Doping Agency-banned drug Thymosin beta 4;
·Mr Dank backdated a letter that said Thymosin was legal after learning it was banned;
·Mr Hird had side effects from using Melanotan II;
·The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and AFL integrity unit warned Mr Hird against peptides in August 2011;
·Proper records were not maintained and players had to tell Mr Dank what they had received.
Essendon later released what it says are revised charges from talks with the AFL on Friday.
This resulted in the allegation that players were given illegal drugs being removed, it said.
The revised charges say the club failed to protect the health, welfare and safety of players, could not determine whether players were given illegal drugs and that there was an unacceptable risk that players may have received banned substances. "This document is an example of the club's contention that the original charges were designed to do little more than score media headlines and ultimately intimidate the club," Essendon said in a statement.
Players association chief executive Matt Finnis said the allegations were disturbing.
He backed the AFL Commission to decide whether its rules were breached and ASADA to determine if the drugs involved were legal.
He was also surprised by messages to the players, their families and the public, and wanted more information.
"It is not apparent to me based on my reading of the (ASADA) interim report, how the club can be certain that no player's health was put at risk by virtue of its supplements program," Mr Finnis said.
He would urgently seek the club's medical advice which was the basis for this position.
The AFL charged Essendon, Mr Hird, Mr Thompson, Dr Reid and football operations manager Danny Corcoran last week with conduct unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or to bring the game into disrepute.
The AFL Commission was scheduled to hear the case on Monday but the league has agreed to a request from the five parties for extra time.
Mr Hird said the AFL still had not responded to a request last week for information so he could prepare his defence.
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said it was important to release the charges because of the publicity about the case but the commission would view Essendon as innocent until proved guilty.
"I want to state very clearly there has been no pre-determination of this matter by the commission," he said.
"The AFL Commission has an open mind as to whether Essendon has breached the AFL rules and regulations and it is an important part of the commission's investigation that Essendon knows what is alleged and has every reasonable opportunity to respond."
The public relations war intensified when former AFL anti-doping tribunal member Dr Andrew Garnham said ASADA had told him in February that AOD-6904 was legal.
Now working for Essendon, he claimed to have passed that information to the AFL.
Essendon accused the league of failing to acknowledge this.
Earlier, AFL lawyer Andrew Dillon said ASADA said that at no point did it advise any party that AOD-9604 was permitted.