ASADA boss Ben McDevitt feels for the AFL players banned for anti-doping violations, but says they only have themselves to blame.
The chief executive said the 34 past and present Essendon players found guilty by the Court of Arbitration for Sport were not innocent bystanders in a case he labelled a watershed for the fight against doping in Australian sport.
McDevitt said the ruling proved the AFL’s anti-doping tribunal simply “got it wrong” when it cleared the players last year, given it was based on the same evidence ASADA had used in its case.
While admitting the saga had dragged on for too long, McDevitt was adamant that giving up on chasing those responsible would have been unfair to clean Australian athletes who do the right thing.
“This case had to be pursued until the truth was revealed,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
“We are here in 2016 not because of decisions made by ASADA or anybody else in 2013, 2014 or 2015. We are here because of decisions made by the club and the players in 2012.”
McDevitt said the players had made the choice to take part in a supplements program led by sports scientist Stephen Dank and agreed to keep it secret.
At best, they didn’t ask the questions or people they should have. At worst, they were complicit in a culture of secrecy and concealment.
Athletes around Australia are constantly told they are responsible for what goes into their bodies, added McDevitt.
“You simply cannot shift that personal responsibility to any support person, or any other person. Full stop,” he said.
“I feel for them quite strongly on a couple of fronts. But they obviously never paid due regard to the enormous possible ramifications and consequences of those decisions that they made when they signed on to a program involving injections of those substances.”
He said the toll for Essendon had been enormous, but hoped the Bombers would regain its former status as one of the most iconic sporting clubs in this nation.
McDevitt said ASADA, who copped a barrage of criticism for their handling of the case, had learned many lessons and believed Australia was now stronger in its anti-doping resilience and capabilities.
The inability for either the AFL tribunal or CAS to compel witnesses to testify remained an ongoing concern for the agency, as does the time it takes to notify of a violation and its final resolution.
“I think what you’ve seen here is a system that, though it’s protracted, has reached the right conclusion, and ultimately we are now at the end of the journey,” he said.