AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan believes Essendon will overcome the devastating impact of doping bans, announcing plans to allow the besieged club to bring in new players.
Essendon will be permitted to top up their depleted AFL list with 10 additional players in 2016 to help cover for the 12 who were hit with one-year bans for violating anti-doping rules.
The Bombers will also be allowed to promote their five rookie-listed players to their senior list.
AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick says the players, including captain Jobe Watson, were hit with a “very harsh punishment” by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Tuesday.
He said Essendon had paid “a very high price” and the league was suffering through “a very dark period”.
But both he and McLachlan said the club had the history and support to rebuild and prosper.
“It has been a sorry stain on our game but it will not define the Essendon Football Club or our game,” he said.
“Essendon will be weakened, no doubt about that, but it is a huge club, it is over 140 years old and the supporters are tribal.
“Today is a marker for the Essendon Football Club.
“Whether they are contesting for the eight in 2017 or whether they are going to go through a long tough period will be defined by the decisions made by people at the club but also around the club and others over the next weeks and months.
“This is a huge test for the leadership of the club, it is a huge test for our industry, but I’m confident with good decision-making that it won’t be something that hangs around for a decade.”
McLachlan said the Commission met on Tuesday morning after the CAS decision and agreed on top-up players for the 2016 season.
“Essendon must be allowed to field a competitive team,” he said.
“These rules around replacement players are necessary for the club to be able to field a side around these doping bans.”
McLachlan said he expected most of the 10 additional players would be players from the AFL system – either delisted or recent retirements – but weren’t restricted to that.
The other four clubs with former Bombers from 2012 on their list – Port Adelaide, Melbourne, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs – can promote rookies to fill the gaps in their playing squads.