ESSENDON may be flying high on top of the AFL ladder, but on Monday chairman David Evans apologised for the almost uncontrolled and experimental off-field medical environment that existed at the club from the end of 2011 until early February this year.
Evans released the club's internally-commissioned report, compiled by former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski, which included a host of damning findings, and 12 recommendations, some of which have already been implemented.
Although he acknowledged , "the buck does stop with me", Evans, elected last year for a three-year term, said he would not step down.
He did say he would bring forward the next election to November this year.
At the heart of the problem was the lack of accountability, governance and reporting lines with the club, compounded by the determination of the coaching staff, led by new coach James Hird, to increase player strength.
While one of the key recommendations of the Switkowski report was that "pioneering work with supplements and exotic treatments should be left to the Australian Sports Commission", Evans again refused to admit any of the supplements taken by the players were illegal.
"We've got a good idea of the supplements that were taken, but I don't think it's fair to talk about that until the ASADA and AFL interviews have taken place," Evans said.
"Our supplement program is now in line with medical guidelines."
The report found many people within the club's high performance team, recruited at the end of the 2011 season and including controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank, were given almost free rein.
"The arrival of confident, opinionated staff was not accompanied by a simultaneous strengthening of the processes within football operations, or by extra vigilance by senior management.
"Innovative supplement practices and compounds soon appeared ... the leaders of the program insist their methods were always legal and compliant, and that conviction prevailed and still prevails within the football department.
"But a number of management processes normally associated with good governance failed during this period, and as a result, suspicions and concerns have arisen about the EFC."
The report found the initiatives that led to those concerns included: the rapid diversification into exotic supplements, a sharp increase in frequency of injections, the shift to treatment offsite in alternative medicine clinics, the emergence of unfamiliar suppliers and the marginalization of traditional medical staff.
Those initiatives combined to, "create a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the club in the period under review".
Whether it involved the players taking illegal substances, knowingly or unknowingly, remained unclear.
The report contained nothing to clarify that situation, although more information has been provided to ASADA and the AFL than was presented yesterday.
Until those organisations complete their investigation, suspicion will hover over the Bombers.
Statement by Essendon chairman David Evans
Last week, the Board of the Essendon Football Club accepted a report from Dr. Ziggy Switkowski on governance issues associated with the supplements program in the season of 2012.
On February 27th on behalf of the Board, I asked Dr. Switkowski to conduct a review into the processes and management of our club.
On that day, I promised to make the recommendations public.
Today I am making available both a summary of the findings and the recommendations to our members, to the football community and to the public.
Before I address the issues, I want to make clear that the full report will stay confidential to the Board, to the AFL and ASADA I also want to make clear what the Board asked of Dr. Switkowski, given that our club is in the hands of external authorities.
The supplements and substances that were given to our players is still a matter of investigation for the AFL and ASADA.
We are aware of a list of substances that were either discussed at our club, potentially administered to our players, or that appeared to have been ordered by persons at our club… but this is still under investigation.
The Board has also sought advice on all the substances speculated about, including some we know now were not part of the program last year.
Our medical and pharmacological experts have given us a great deal of comfort about the safety profile of what may have been given to players.
At all stages of this process we have kept the players and the parents up to date as much as possible.
However, Dr. Switkowski's report did not speculate about the actual substances or their impacts or their status. This is very much a matter for the external investigation.
I want to remind everyone that our players have not yet been interviewed, and we are still in the hands of ASADA.
And as I have said previously, and I repeat today - anyone who cares about sport or our game, and anyone who cares about our club must let ASADA do its job.
Dr. Switkowski's report has helped the Board understand what processes at our club failed that allowed this extraordinary set of circumstances to occur from about November 2011 to August 2012.
I do not want to take away from the seriousness of what happened, and Dr. Switkowski's report pulls no punches about our processes, but I do want to say that it is a specific period of time that saw these events unfold.
As the report says, during this period there was - and I quote now from Dr. Switkowski:
..a rapid diversification into exotic supplements, sharp increase in the number of injections, the shift to treatment off site in alternative medical clinics, emergence of unfamiliar suppliers, the marginalisation of traditional medical staff (which) combined to create a disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented within the Club in the period under review.
Furthermore, the Report details:
1. A culture of competitive performance practices under cloak of secrecy - with the sports science team wanting protection of their intellectual property.
2. Failure in structure and accountability - with problems occurring in the club's selection and recruitment processes, management of contractors, hierarchy and decision making in the football department and administration.
3. Use of external doctors not known to our club or to the medical staff of the club.
4. Failure to oversee guidelines and processes instituted by the Coach and the Medical staff.
For legal reasons, we cannot make the whole report public.
However, I want to give our members and the public the assurance that the Board is aware of our responsibilities to make the recommendations meaningful by implementing the right changes at the club.
We will not however, be making decisions about accountabilities until we have the AFL and ASADA report.
I want to outline the next steps that the Board will be taking.
Firstly, on behalf of the Board, and with the help of ASADA, I will continue the process of talking to all our players and their families about the range of supplements and substances that may be have used at our club.
Secondly, the Board will be considering Ziggy's recommendations, while awaiting the ASADA report.
I want to warn that that until all our players have been interviewed, what substances were actually administered is only speculation, and I want to repeat what I said in the last week - we have not as a club conceded that banned substances have been given.
There is a lot of confusion and I will not contribute to that confusion except again to ask for patience.
Lastly I want to apologise to our players and their families, to our members and our supporters and to the AFL community about what has happened at Essendon.
There is a lot of speculation about the role of sports scientists and what is cutting edge and what is competitive and so on but in all that confusion and debate I want people to focus on Dr. Switkowski's first recommendation to our board:
1) Pioneering work with supplements and exotic treatments should be left to the Australian Sports Commission. This is not an area for risk management but for zero tolerance. A club's pharmacology skills should not normally be independently and secretly developed as a source of competitive advantage. And an arms race for the most sophisticated molecules must be prohibited.
I am deeply sorry that this happened on my watch as Chairman of the Board of the Essendon Football Club.
I know how important this club is to its members and supporters, and I can only apologise that this series of events has happened.
I say to members today that I will fight to ensure that there is zero tolerance to risky programs or procedures at our club.
We have already made changes and will make more.
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