Essendon great Tim Watson says the AFL was negotiating with the Bombers on outcomes in case of a guilty finding from the anti-doping tribunal right up until its verdict in March.
Watson set the hares running on Monday morning by alleging league chiefs offered a deal to the stricken AFL club as late as two days before the finding of no guilt on March 31.
As the father of club captain Jobe, one of 34 players involved in the matter and now subject to an appeal by WADA, Watson has been close to the supplements saga since it became public in February 2013.
His suggestion brought a swift denial from the AFL, but Watson continued to take up the matter later on Monday.
“On that Sunday before the AFL tribunal handed down its decision they were still talking about a deal,” he told Channel Seven’s Talking Footy.
“(The AFL) wanted this to end. They didn’t want any player to appeal beyond this because they didn’t want it dragging on.
“The discussion was about the penalty … what (would) happen if the players are found guilty.”
The three-time premiership winner suggested the closeness of round one fixtures to the verdict was the AFL’s chief concern, with negotiations aiming to maintain the integrity of the season ahead.
Earlier on Monday, to demonstrate the AFL’s independence from the anti-doping tribunal’s deliberations, he told Melbourne radio station SEN that the AFL was engaged in deal-making to the last minute.
“I tell you how independent they were … the AFL was still trying to do a deal with Essendon on the Sunday night before the tribunal handed down its penalty,” he said.
“The AFL had no idea what was coming. Fact. F-a-c-t.”
In response, the AFL released a statement which read: “It was totally incorrect to state that a deal was put to the Essendon players in the days before March 31.
“A number of meetings occurred in the weeks before the tribunal’s decision, including on the Sunday (March 29), between the club and the AFL, to discuss contingency plans in the event that the Tribunal found the players guilty.”
However, Watson pointed out the two statements are not incompatible.
Negotiations may not have reached the point where a formal deal was offered, or could have been deemed unnecessary due to the not guilty finding.
“We can both be telling the truth here,” Watson said.
“All I’ve been doing it trying to articulate what’s been going on behind the scenes.
“The truth shouldn’t hurt people.”