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(Sports) No regrets over handling of Essendon doping saga: Australian Football League

Xinhua, January 13, 2016 Adjust font size:

The Australian Football League (AFL) has "no regrets" about how it handled the 2012 Essendon supplement saga, despite its "not guilty" ruling to clear 34 players on doping charges being successfully overturned on Tuesday.

League CEO Gillon McLachlan said the AFL gave its due diligence to the investigation, in which an in-house tribunal found the players not guilty of taking thymosin beta-4. Despite this, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) launches an appeal, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport handed down its verdict -- one-year bans -- to the 34 players on Tuesday.

Adding to the pressure on the AFL on Wednesday, WADA Director General David Howman told News Corp from Canada that the unprecedented decision was a watershed moment for the anti-doping body, with the "wrong" verdict reason enough to appeal the AFL's ruling.

Howman said if the initial verdict had been the "right one" -- or not guilty -- WADA would not have pursued the case, but instead, he said the injustice had to be challenged.

"It just would've been impossible (not to appeal) and we felt that wasn't the spirit of the (WADA) Code," Howman told News Corp on Wednesday.

"It wasn't the way we wanted the Code to be construed and it certainly wasn't the way it had been construed in the past."

"If we hadn't appealed we would have accepted the change that wasn't mandated upon us by our stakeholders."

On Tuesday afternoon, McLachlan said the verdict, which has sent shockwaves through the sporting community, has left the club and the league a challenging period, but said he did not regret the AFL's handling of the case.

"It's struck at the very heart of game and the integrity of our competitions," McLachlan told the media.

He wouldn't speculate as to whether or not the players would take legal action against the club for negligence, instead, focused on how Essendon would fight its way through the 2016 season, which starts in March.

"There is no doubt it's going to be challenging period. I won't comment about (legal action). There is going to be a lot of speculation about that," he said.

"(But) they must be allowed to field a competitive team."

He said the AFL had already investigated and punished the Bombers and it would not be further adding to the club's woes.

"There will be no further action against the Essendon Football Club by the AFL on this matter," McLachlan said.

"Essendon is going to be weakened, there is no doubt about that. But this is a huge club, with 700,000, 800,000 supporters, and it's an inflection point of the history of this club, over 140 years old, and supporters are tribal."

McLachlan added that a decision will be made in February regarding the legality of club captain Jobe Watson's now-infamous Brownlow Medal (league most valuable player award).

He won the medal in 2012, during the height of the supplements regime.

"The committee determined the awarding of this medal needs to be reviewed in light of this (news)," he told the media.

"The full commission must hear this issue at a meeting in February. Jobe will be invited to address the commission along with other relevant parties." Endit