Former Essendon coach Mark Thompson admits the AFL club’s controversial supplements regime was ethically questionable, but insists it was not illegal.
On the day that ASADA decided not to appeal the AFL anti-doping tribunal’s findings against 34 Essendon players, Thompson said James Hird was also innocent.
Thompson was Hird’s main assistant coach in 2012 when Stephen Dank ran the supplements program at the club.
In February 2013, the AFL and ASADA started a joint investigation that led to the landmark anti-doping tribunal verdicts against the 34 current and past players.
While ASADA will not appeal, WADA has three weeks to decide if it will challenge the not-guilty findings.
The tribunal found Dank guilty of 10 charges and he will appeal against those verdicts.
In an extensive interview on Fox Footy’s Open Mike program, Thompson became emotional when asked about Hird and the supplements regime.
“It’s grey – should systematic injection programs be put in place at clubs? No,” Thompson said.
“But were there rules against it? No.
“So ethically wrong to have it? Yes.
“Broken rules? No.
“Anything illegal taken? No.
“Was he (Hird) totally responsible for that? When you think about the law, he’s not – he’s not even in the top 20, believe it or not … responsibility for compliance and governance.”
Asked who he thought was the biggest victim in the supplements saga, Thompson replied “Hirdy”.
Thompson added that authorities had tried to divide the players, but failed.
“They really didn’t have anything .. they were just hoping,” he said.
“They (threw) that many lines out to try and hook the players and I think they were probably impressed by their resilience and their strength as one.
“No-one broke from the pack and I think they were waiting for it to happen.”
Thompson also partially defended Dank, but added the sports scientist put too much faith in his own methods.
“He’s a likeable guy, he believes in what he does – he’s passionate about his industry,” Thompson said.
“He’s not the devil – he’s not a devil of a man – I think he just believes in his products a bit too much and was able to convince people … he’s a salesman.”
In August 2013, the AFL hit Essendon with heavy penalties over the supplements saga.
Those included a $30,000 fine for Thompson and he does little to hide his bitterness.
“The night before the charges came out, I wasn’t charged,” he said.
“My solicitor all along said I shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
“(Former Essendon chairman) David Evans told me that may not even interview (Thompson).
“In the end, they needed to get a scalp and my head probably matched up perfectly.”
Thompson was caretaker coach at Essendon last year as Hird served his 12-month AFL suspension.
Thompson left the club at the end of the season in strained circumstances.