This first appeared on The Roar
Once again the Melbourne media and every water cooler in the city is alive with the Essendon doping scandal.
This is the scandal that just keeps on giving.
This is the scandal that just keeps giving because its resolution is as murky as the Yarra River itself.
What makes these waters so murky though is a combination of a number of key factors.
The first of these is James and Tania Hird’s clearly held belief they have done nothing wrong, and as such, there is no moral issue with James Hird remaining on the payroll of the Essendon Football Club while he is serving a suspension.
Mrs Hird’s comments seem to imply her husband agreed to a ban, not through an admission that he had done anything wrong, but out of some loyalty to the club.
I sense the strong odor of burning martyr here.
By continuing to pay James Hird, the Essendon Football Club is also making it very clear that they feel they have done nothing wrong, either.
Hird may even see himself as some sort of martyr for the club, taking one for the team, in order to save the club.
If James Hird is to be banned from coaching in 2014, then that ban must also take the form of the cessation of payment from the club. Without this, he may as well be sitting in the coaches box next season.
This isn’t the end of the matter though.
Nor is it even half the story of doping in sport.
Doping in sport is much more than using banned substances.
It is the culture that allows cheating to happen.
It is the fundamental belief that if everyone else is doing it, it’s ok.
These beliefs were at work at the Essendon Football Club and it is these beliefs that must be combatted before the insidious and destructive nature of widespread cheating takes hold.
Another key factor in this debacle has been the AFLs handling of the whole affair.
There is no doubt that Andrew Demetriou is keen to protect the AFLs brand and in an age where sport is a big business, he is merely doing what he gets paid a lot of money to do.
The real problem, though, is the boys club that AFL football is.
This is an incestuous world often referred to as ‘the football world’, by those with membership to this exclusive society.
Everyone knows everyone, has links, ties and loyalties and now they find themselves in conflict.
The AFL, including the clubs themselves, has always operated on a system of backroom deals and sweeping scandals under the carpet.
The peptide saga at the Essendon Football Club is just too big for that.
The AFL need to be much more transparent in how they deal with issues of drugs in sport.
I’ve made this point before, and I’m making it again, you only need to look at the mess cycling has found itself in to see the dangers of a sporting body not operating transparently.
A further key factor in this mess, has been the former Labor Government’s political point scoring from this issue.
A deeply unpopular Gillard, or was it a Rudd government (who could keep up) must have been loving this scandal in February this year.
Who can forget then Sports Minister, Kate Lundy grandstanding with the heads of all football codes in this country, that this is the blackest day in Australian sport.
There was political mileage to be had and by golly it took some pressure off an underperforming government.
The pollies expertly tapped into, along with the media, our mythological belief, that Australians would never cheat and that drugs would never be allowed to pervade our football codes.
Afterall, in Melbourne, AFL is religion.
We worship at its alter
The Hird’s, the Essendon Football Club and the AFL have behaved in morally questionable ways, but we must also begin to delve deeper into why ASADA has until this point, not issued any infraction notices.
We must also question why, some ten months after the Essendon Football Club called their initial press conference, stating some unusual practices had taken place, we are still no clearer on if the alleged substances given to the players actually were illegal.
Sporting bodies need clear guidelines on what can and cannot be given to athletes and the ‘he said/she said’ confusion surrounding the injected products suggests problems with the management of drugs in sport in this country.
Also, Stephen Dank appears to continue avoid questioning by ASADA, even though the federal government increased ASDA’s powers.
This situation needs to be adequately explained to the public.
It should be pointed out that tracking, investigating and bringing about charges of doping in sport is much more complex than just conducting drug tests.
Remember, it was through the investigative powers of USADA, that Lance Armstrong was finally revealed for the drug cheat many suspected him to be.
However, those who revealed the truth about the Texan only did so once they were about to retire.
Drugs in sport is a sorry mess.
The best way to combat it is to remove those who harbor the fundamental beliefs that doing anything to win makes cheating ok.
It is for this reason, that the AFL has been justified in banning James Hird.
But the fact that no infraction notices have been issued by ASADA is worrying, and until they do so, this sorry saga will continue to simmer away.
Also until we have an independent and transparent inquiry into this mess, it looks to me, that it will just get messier.