Essendon civil case ‘likely’: lawyer

Essendon players banned for doping violations won’t take the field this year but may take to the courts, with legal action against the AFL club a possibility, a senior sports lawyer says.

In a stunning ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), 34 current and former Essendon players have been found guilty of anti-doping offences during the 2012 season.

The ruling means 12 current Essendon players and five who have moved to other clubs are banned from playing in 2016.

This sets possible grounds for civil legal action against the club, University of Melbourne senior fellow in sports law Catherine Ordway said.

“I would have thought that’s quite likely, given that the finding is so damning against Essendon as a club and what went on there, from a number of different reports now,” she said.

Describing the CAS ruling, released on Tuesday, as the “final nail in the coffin”, Ms Ordway said players may be able to mount cases that they have suffered loss.

“They’ve suffered loss not only from whatever they lose from being suspended this season but I would have thought reputation-wise for the future and potential mental and physical health issues,” she told AAP.

The CAS decision overturned a March 2015 decision of the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal that it was not comfortably satisfied the players had been injected with illegal peptides under a 2012 strength conditioning program at Essendon.

Because the CAS verdict means the “comfortably satisfied” standard has been met, Ms Ordway says that meets a higher standard of proof than would be required in a civil case.

“That’s already been satisfied so that would make it an even stronger case for these athletes,” she said.

Ms Ordway said while the CAS had found the players did not ask about what they were being injected with, and that they kept the injection program secret, those findings were unlikely to undermine a civil claim.

“I don’t think it’s fatal to a civil case. Definitely those will be factors that will be taken into account but the bottom line in a civil case is that Essendon football club is the employer and they owe a duty to care for the athletes,” she said.

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