ASADA has given up its pursuit of AFL club Essendon, more than two years after it started.
The national anti-doping body announced on Monday it will not appeal the AFL anti-doping tribunal’s decision to clear 34 current and former Essendon players, or its findings related to biochemist Stephen Dank.
It leaves the World Anti-Doping Agency, the only body in a position to appeal the verdicts, with three weeks to make a decision.
Former Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority chairman Richard Ings termed Monday’s announcement a “hospital pass”.
ASADA chief Ben McDevitt, who last month described the Bombers’ 2012 injections program as “absolutely and utterly disgraceful”, noted the decision was based on legal advice.
“I am conscious that ASADA does not have a direct right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the only appeal avenue open to ASADA at this time is to the AFL anti-doping appeals tribunal,” McDevitt said in a statement on Monday.
“I am also aware that appealing any of these decisions within the AFL framework would ultimately serve only to delay consideration of these matters by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“I have therefore arranged to provide the entire case file encompassing all 35 matters to WADA for its independent review.
“WADA will then be able to make an independent decision as to whether to exercise its appeal options.
“ASADA will support any WADA-initiated appeal.”
WADA director general David Howman released a statement after the not guilty verdict on March 31, noting his organisation would not examine the issue until receipt of a full case file.
“WADA will review the reasons for the decision and determine whether or not to exercise its own right of appeal,” Howman said.
McDevitt also called for the release of the tribunal’s full findings and reasons “in the interests of transparency”.
It has been nearly three weeks since players were cleared by the AFL anti-doping tribunal, following a two-year joint ASADA-AFL investigation.
The case is unprecedented in many ways, making it hard to speculate about a potential WADA appeal, but the saga involving NRL club Cronulla has some parallels.
Twelve Sharks players accepted backdated one-year bans in 2014, however they were agreed in August meaning the practical punishment was far less severe.
WADA considered an appeal, but decided against it.
“WADA is not entirely satisfied with the outcome of this case and the practical period of the 12-month suspensions,” the anti-doping body said in a statement.
WADA questioned delays in the case that “were directly the result of the lack of activity or decision by either ASADA or the Australian government”.
If it holds similar concerns about the process regarding Essendon, an appeal is unlikely to happen.
Ings highlighted the fact that Dank was cleared of 21 of 31 charges as another stumbling block for an appeal.
“If ASADA can’t even prove “administration” by SD how can ASADA expect WADA to prove “use” by players …a WADA appeal would surprise me,” Ings posted on Twitter. “WADA will love that hospital pass.”
The tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that Dank administered the banned substance Thymosin beta-4 to any Essendon players – the same reason the players themselves were cleared.
Dank has repeatedly insisted he did nothing wrong at Essendon and has indicated he will appeal the findings against him.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has said his personal wish is that there are no challenges to the tribunal findings.