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ASADA on offensive as Bombers cleared

The AFL’s Anti-Doping Tribunal has cleared 34 past and present Essendon players of doping in 2012, prompting ASADA chief Ben McDevitt to label the club’s fitness programme “utterly disgraceful”.

The not-guilty verdict was handed down during a closed hearing at AFL headquarters at 2pm on Tuesday.

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The Tribunal’s decision was unanimous.

“The Tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that any player was administered Thymosin Beta-4,” chairman David Jones said in a statement.

“The Tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that any player violated clause 11.2 of the AFL Anti-Doping Code.”

In combative mood: ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt. Photo: Getty

In combative mood: ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt. Photo: Getty

The statement also said the verdict against a “former Essendon support person”, believed to be performance guru Stephen Dank, would be handed down at a later date.

McDevitt issued a defiant statement shortly after the verdict was handed down.

“What happened at Essendon in 2012 was, in my opinion, absolutely and utterly disgraceful,” he said.

“It was not a supplements programme but an injection regime and the players and the fans were so poorly let down by the club.

“While I am obviously disappointed that the charges in this instance have not been proven to the comfortable satisfaction of the tribunal, I am pleased that the tribunal was able to finally hear these matters.”

Watson, players relieved

Essendon skipper Jobe Watson fronted the media at 4pm and said he and his fellow players were relieved.

“The last two years have been extremely difficult for us and our families,” Watson said.

“I think today was about the 34 players.

“What we want we do is move on.

“We want to go to bed and not have it be the last thing we think of and the first thing we think of when we wake up.

“It will be a little bit surreal for it to no longer be a part of you.

“I don’t think that if this was an individual sport that we would have got through. I know I wouldn’t have got through without the guys next to me and the guys behind me.”

ASADA has 21 days to decide whether to appeal the verdict, and the organisation has scheduled a press conference for 11am on Wednesday in Canberra.

ASADA “in crisis”

Former ASADA boss Richard Ings has urged the body not to appeal.

Jobe Watson fronts the media along with other members of 'the 34'. Photo: Getty

Jobe Watson fronts the media along with other members of ‘the 34’. Photo: Getty

“ASADA must be in crisis looking at this decision, they’ve got to make a call whether they will appeal or not,” Ings told Melbourne radio station SEN.

“I’m sure that ASADA will be in lockdown this afternoon.

“Having listened to that statement from Ben McDevitt, you’ve got to imagine they’re more likely to appeal, than not to appeal.

“But I think it’s important that ASADA respect the decision of this tribunal.

“This is an experienced panel, they gave fair hearing to the parties.”

The AFL Players’ Association said the saga should serve as a warning to the football to insure such a regime is never seen again.

“We are relieved this matter is now closed and we, as an industry, can get on with the footy,” AFL PA chief executive Paul Marsh said.

“We believe this matter provides an opportunity for genuine industry reflection to ensure this type of situation never happens again.

“The PA will continue to work with the AFL and clubs to do everything we can to make sure no player’s health is ever put at risk again in the pursuit of on-field success.”

Full list for Sydney game

The verdict means Essendon will be have a full list to choose from for their season-opener against Sydney on Saturday evening.

The players’ lawyer David Grace QC said it was a good outcome for them, and didn’t want to comment on the possibility of an ASADA appeal.

“I don’t want to comment on strength or weakness (of the case), the results are here today,” Grace said.

“I cannot say whether there will be (an appeal), we are going to see the players now and talk to them and we’re just interested in playing on Saturday.

“For the players, it is nice to get an outcome for them.”

Port Adelaide – whose players Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries were part of the Bombers in 2012 – welcomed the news.

“Clearly we are pleased for Angus and Paddy,” Mr Thomas said.

“They have been through so much and we are very proud as to how they’ve handled themselves during this difficult time.

“It’s a relief that they have been found not guilty of these breaches and can now focus on their football.”

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