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For everyone who woke up this morning wondering 'What's an Essendon'?

“What is an Essendon?”

By MAMAMIA TEAM

We’re not naming names but overheard this week in the Mamamia office was one (non-footy loving) staff member asking ‘What’s an Essendon’?

And we suspect that there are more than a few of us who watched the news last night or clicked to a story this morning and were left a bit baffled by what is going on in the AFL.

So we’ve put together this handy Essendon Football Club doping scandal cheatsheet (no pun intended) for those of you who don’t normally follow the footy or are beholden to a different code.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Who are Essendon and what exactly did they do wrong?

The Essendon Football Club are an AFL team that is based in Melbourne and have existed since 1871. They have won 16 premierships, which is the equal highest number of any club in the AFL. Their nickname is the Bombers or the Dons. For the fashion-inclined amongst us, their colours are red and black.

It is widely understood (despite some investigations remaining unfinished) that Essendon players took peptides during 2012. Basically, peptides are a chain of amino acids that are the ‘building blocks’ which create protein. When taken in supplement form they can be used to build muscle mass, helping athletes recover more quickly after injury.

Peptides are used extensively by the body building community but are a banned substance in most professional sports, including the AFL. Their usage is very difficult to detect, particularly for the most common form of athlete drug tests which rely on urine samples.

The full list of charges against Essendon (a whole 34 pages of them) were released last week by the AFL. The allegations included substances being brought back to Australia from China by a convicted drug dealers, an ongoing program of banned substances being injected into players and a ‘scare’ for coach James Hird after he was personally injected with a particular substance.

So what was yesterday’s press conference all about?

The AFL held a press conference last night, which is dominating media coverage today. They have been considering whether  the Essendon Football Club, had ‘brought the game intro disrepute’ by taking performance enhancing drugs.

Last night Essendon  pleaded guilty to bringing the game into disrepute. And as a result the are copping some punishments, which include:

– A $2 million fine by the AFL to be imposed on the club (the largest fine in the AFL’s history);

– Essendon will be excluded from playing finals this year, despite being ranked high enough on the ladder to do so prior to the sanctions being imposed;

– Essendon’s football operations manager will be suspended for six months and the senior assistant coach will be fined $30,000

– Essendon’s coach, James Hird will not be allowed to work for the AFL or any AFL club in any capacity for the next 12 months; and

– The club will forfeit part of their entitlement to pick up some of the best new young players who are entering the competition for the first time next year.

But why is that significant? $2 million is a lot, sure, but is it really that big of a deal for a football club?

The penalties applied have wide ranging implications for Essendon.

A team of young footballers – who have dedicated their every waking moment to this sport – won’t get to play in the finals. And because no individual player has been charged at this stage, it’s almost inevitable that players who have done absolutely nothing wrong, will suffer because of the actions of others.

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Last night’s press conference

Not playing finals will of course disappoint fans who had high hopes for this year’s season and will also affect ongoing support for the club.

It’s likely we’ll see decreased membership and attendance at games as some less-fervent fans simply walk away from their association with the Bombers.

The club will suffer financially, given the $2 million fine and this scandal is also likely to effect ongoing sponsorship prospects. What company is going to be keen to invest in a club who have basically been proven guilty of cheating?

On top of this, the restrictions from being able to pick up emerging talented players next year, will hurt the club’s chances of winning a premiership into the future.

How did they get caught doing naughty things in the first place?

In February of this year, the Essendon Football Club ‘self reported’ to the organisers of the AFL that some of their players may have taken potentially performance enhancing substances during the 2012 season.

This self identification came immediately after the club being implicated in an government report that linked organised crime networks in Australia with the use of banned substances in sporting competition.

Essendon players

An internal investigation, conducted by Essendon themselves, revealed that there had been a lack of proper processes in the club during the 2012 season.

In other words, it wasn’t clear from records which players had been given what and when. For a professional sporting club – this is pretty dodgy – and it prompted a stream of resignations from senior officials and staff at the club.

The possibility that Essendon did use performance enhancing drugs was then investigated by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) who interviewed more than 100 witness and trawled through seemingly endless paperwork, before producing an interim report on the matter.

While that interim report has not yet been made public and ASADA’s investigations will continue, the AFL seem to have decided that there was enough evidence to prevent Essendon from playing in the finals, which start in less than a fortnight.

How do they decide which drugs are okay and which ones aren’t? Isn’t everyone on drugs?

No, everyone isn’t on drugs. While it can feel like that sometimes (cyclists, we’re looking at you), the reality is that the vast majority of Australian athletes abide by the rules.

The rules against doping exist to ensure a level playing field in professional sporting competition and to protect the integrity of sport. Australia’s anti doping agency’s vision is to have Australian athletes competing at their best but putting in a pure performance, based on their naturally honed talents.

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There has been some confusion about whether or not the drugs that Essendon players have allegedly been injected with were on the prohibited list at the time they were taken. The lack of proper processes and record keeping makes it very hard to get to the bottom of what has actually been taken.

Why does everyone get so excited about this James Hird fellow?

James Hird.

James Hird is Essendon’s coach. When the stream of high-profile Essendon administrators and staff resigned in the middle of this year – many were surprised that Hird didn’t go too. Hird has been publicly accused by former Essendon staff as being the ‘mastermind’ of the supplements program at Essendon.

Hird has determinedly defended his own innocence and has even commenced action in the Supreme Court against the AFL, who he believes are running a personal campaign against him.

The coach has now been banned by the AFL from being involved with the competition for a period of one year. However in an extraordinary move, the Essendon Football Club have extended his contract – so he will return as coach in 2015.

Hird is a former Essendon player who won all the highest accolades of the game, including as an AFL Premiership winning player and taking the AFL’s greatest individual honour, the Brownlow Medal.

As a result – fans, players and staff within the club are extremely loyal to him. He maintains that while, as coach, he should have had greater oversight and understanding of the supplements program – he did absolutely nothing wrong according to the rules.

I kind of skim read this cheatsheet, just give me some handy phrases to throw into conversation so I look informed?

Sure thing, try out a few of these around the watercooler at work today:

“How absurd is it that was supposed to be a disciplinary hearing, basically ended up being a negotiation between the AFL and Essendon about what penalties should apply”.

“It’s interesting that the AFL decided to take action rather than waiting for a final report. They must be pretty confident that the final report will be damning of Essendon’s supplements program, don’t you think?”

“The loyalty that the Essendon Football Club and their fans have show to James Hird has been steadfast. Surely, this would all have played out differently if the coach hadn’t been such a favourite son of the club.”

“I feel for the players, who still have to play next week with all of this hanging over their heads and without the guidance of the coach, who they no doubt trust and are close to”.

What happens now? Is it all over?

Yeah… no.

It’s important to remember that the AFL have taken this action after reviewing an interim report. The final report is yet to be released and it could see individual players and staff charged and potentially, banned from the game. As a result, this saga is far from over as potential court actions, further charges, accusations and at least one more game for Essendon this season, are still ahead.

What happened yesterday was that the AFL took early action based on the interim report because they realised that they simply couldn’t let this team play finals and still maintain the good reputation of the game. For lovers of the game, this move has been largely welcomed because it has been sad to watch an entire season marred by controversy.

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