Bombers' defining moment

AS ESSENDON Football Club marches off to the Federal Court arm-in-arm with suspended coach James Hird, the 34 of its current and former players who have reportedly received show-cause letters must again wait it out.

As was noted in this column in April 2013, doping cases take forever to resolve.

Those 14 months ago we observed that ASADA and WADA knew very well that the work must be detailed and precise and that any eventual finding had the potential to deeply affect lives and reputations.

We pondered that if the smoke eventually revealed a fire, it would be a defining moment in Australian sport and life.

Who knows whether that moment has now arrived?

The very uncertainty that accompanies a case as unique as this means that what is yet to come might be way more momentous than any of the steps along the way that have so far been ascended.

Essendon's plan to legally attack the nature of the investigation is both desperate and innovative. But no lawyer worth their salt would have failed to consider every option for their client in a case for which there is no precedent.

The club has taken it upon itself to provide support and finance for the players in defending themselves against any infraction notices that might be forthcoming as a result of the current preliminary show-cause process.

So if it succeeds in heading the whole matter off at the pass in this way, it will not only have lifted the weight from its players' shoulders and saved the club some further expenditure but also almost certainly have protected itself from action from those very same young men.

For if the worst should eventuate and the players are charged and penalised, their own advisers would be obliged to consider some form of action against the very entity whose personnel devised and oversaw the environment in which they came to grief.

But a legal victory on a technicality or a procedural error would only partly provide relief - for the overarching questions would remain unanswered. Just why did Essendon embark on the exercise in the first place and what were the players comprehending when they were asked to sign consent forms and then did so?

The intent and purpose of the program and the players' willingness to participate in it must be fully explored regardless of what path the formalities take. Otherwise the propensity for the same thing to happen again would remain.

As far as public perception is concerned, ASADA right now looks to have its act in order far more than at any other time in the past 16 months.

So it's hard to imagine that it has not prepared its case sufficiently well, especially under the watchful eye of former Federal Court judge and Administrative Appeals Tribunal president Garry Downes, and would fall at the first hurdle.

That would be a defining moment in Australian sport life.


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