Drug scandal: Australian football club to plead guilty

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Australian football club Essendon will plead guilty to endangering player safety under its supplements regime, its lawyers said on Monday.

The club is at the centre of one of the biggest drug scandals in Australian sports history, reports Xinhua.

During the 2011 Australian Football League (AFL) season, Essendon — also known as the Bombers — implemented a broad and secretive supplements programme where players were administered drugs possibly banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Essendon’s lawyer Garry Livermore told Melbourne magistrate’s court on Monday the club intended to plead guilty to two charges related to breaching worker occupational and health standards.

The two charges revolved around negligence of strict player-welfare guidelines.

Within the charges, the Bombers were accused of not making players aware of the supplements’ “scientific and common name, all clinical findings both positive and negative, known or potential side-effects and a statement saying it did not contravene any (WADA) guidelines.”

The maximum penalty for breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004, which the charges fall under, is a fine of around $219 million.

Earlier this month, Essendon’s lawyers were battling a WADA-led appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Sydney. The hearing was closed to the public and media.

WADA made the last-ditch appeal against Essendon’s 34 past and present players — who were caught up in the program — after they were cleared by the AFL’s anti-doping tribunal in March.

The AFL anti-doping tribunal, chaired by David Grace QC, was “not comfortably satisfied” the players had been administered Thymosin Beta-4 (TB4) — a drug on the WADA prohibited substance list — which would have constituted a maximum two-year ban if proven.

Former Essendon coach James Hird, who was widely blamed for his role in overseeing the supplements regime, was only forced out of the club in August this year, with the Bombers reluctant to cut loose the club great.

The CAS is due to rule on WADA’s appeal before the beginning of 2016, drawing the long-running saga to a close.

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