A scandal the AFL can t control
A scandal the AFL can't control

More than one AFL coach has said over the years that potential is a terrible word.

Right now their words are ringing loud in the AFL's ears because the performance enhancing drug cloud hovering over Essendon has the "potential" to develop into the most terrible scandal in VFL/AFL history, possibly in Australian sporting history.

If, and we stress if, ASADA and the AFL's integrity unit discover that supplements taken by Essendon players during the 2012 season contained banned substances the fallout will be unprecedented.

It will consign the Ben Cousins drug scandal, the Wayne Carey sex scandal, Melbourne's tanking scandal and Carlton's salary cap scandal to the background.

Even the NRL's Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal will be overtaken and that involved the stripping of premierships.

The Cousins scandal hurt his club and dented the reputation of the AFL. Cousins was deregistered for a year for bringing the game into disrepute. But the bulk of the damage he did was to himself and those close to him. The game went on without him and then with him when he returned at Richmond.

The revelation that Carey had had an affair with Kelli Stevens, wife of his vice-captain Anthony, stunned the football world.

But we all dusted ourselves off and round one of the 2002 AFL season went ahead a few days later.

Who knows what, if anything, will happen to Melbourne over tanking claims but it is almost conceded and assumed that at least some teams that finish down the bottom of the ladder are not always flat out after victory.

That is what you get for rewarding the wooden spooners with the most promising kid in the land.

Carlton's salary cap scandal amounted to cheating and the club was wiped out of consecutive drafts at a time it was due to rebuild.

But in every case the AFL has or had total control over the penalties it dished out.

If there is an ASADA finding that there were banned substances in Essendon's 2012 supplements, it would set off a chain reaction the like of which we are yet to see in Australian sport.

Players would be subject to bans.

Depending on who and how many are shown to have taken the supplements, Essendon's list might have to be completely rebuilt, Jobe Watson's Brownlow Medal re- possessed or a broadcast rights deal worth $1.2 billion over five years might have to be revalued.

This is the worst case scenario.

And for once, the control freaks at league headquarters will not wield total control over Essendon's and their own destiny.

Regardless of the ignorance or naivety of players who might have taken supplements, ASADA does not regard ignorance as an excuse, and holds athletes accountable for what goes into their bodies.

And it also wields heavy influence over the penalties dished out to them, and takes a dim view of codes and nations who do not hold firm with their recommended bans.

The AFL, happy to send Cousins and Carlton precisely the message it wanted to send on their breaches, will be sending the message on behalf of WADA and ASADA when it sits in final judgment of any player deemed to have taken performance enhancing drugs, either wittingly or unwittingly.

And it will have to answer to the anti-doping bodies and probably the Federal Government if it wants to depart from the script set down by the anti-dopers, endorsed by politicians wary of Australia's international sporting reputation.

All this before we even get started on the possible legal ramifications for Essendon, a club that may have knowingly or unwittingly exposed a young playing list to banned substances.

We are talking about a scandal which could become the most far reaching in our sporting history.

Dr Ken Maguire said yesterday that the Essendon issue was a timely reminder of the growing role of sports scientists in elite sporting clubs and the need for them to remain under the control of doctors.

It is also a timely reminder to the AFL of the need to put integrity at the top of its list of priorities.

In this regard the league has failed miserably.

How do you tell clubs to uphold high standards of fairness and honour in the way they go about their business when you have sacrificed those principles in going about yours.

Fairness went down the gurgler a long time ago in the AFL, which bases fixtures around high attendances and profit, to in turn maximise its broadcast rights deals.

The West Australian

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