Essendon had a “sliding doors” moment when it hired Dean Robinson and Stephen Dank that set the club and 34 AFL players on the path to ruin, former coach James Hird says.
The Court of Arbitration for sport this week upheld the World Anti-Doping Agency’s appeal against the AFL tribunal decision to clear 34 players of taking the banned substance thymosin-beta 4 while Hird was coach, handing 34 past and present players a 12-month ban from the sport.
In a column published by the Herald Sun, Hird revealed that fitness coach Dean Robinson and sports scientist Stephen Dank were not the club’s first choices in 2011 to run what it thought would be a cutting edge supplements program.
He said the preferred candidate, working in the English Premier League, could not join Essendon until May 2012.
“Had we secured this preferred applicant then the experience of the Essendon Football Club and 34 young men would have been very different,” he said.
“Instead the sliding door we walked through introduced Essendon to the worlds of Dean Robinson and, at Robinson’s suggestion, Stephen Dank.”
Hird said he was comfortable with the supplements program if supplements were AFL and ASADA approved, that players would not be harmed and gave informed consent and that club doctor Bruce Reid gave final approval.
“The supplements program then, from my perspective, had sound logic, important goals, the people the club had engaged presented as credible and successful, the structure for the program was right and the protocol for decision-making and player welfare had integrity,” he said.
“It seems that what transpired was that the protocol we put in place was not always followed.”
“Importantly, to our knowledge at that time, this was the scope of the problem, because Dank had assured the club the supplements were compliant.
“He had even presented supporting evidence.”
Dank was later sacked, Robinson’s role scaled back and the supplements program modified so that only Dr Reid could administer injections.