After more than three years of being dragged before
courts and a tribunal, on 12th January 2016, the Essendon Football
Club and its 34 former and current players were banned for taking
In the verdict, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld
an appeal by the World AntiDoping Agency, effectively banning 34
players for the 2016 Season, after they were originally cleared of
wrongdoing by the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal.
The CAS found to its "comfortable satisfaction" (being
the required standard of proof) that the relevant clause of the AFL
Doping Code "use of a prohibited substance" had been
violated and the players were significantly at fault. On 28 January
2016, Essendon was also found guilty for criminal breaches of the
Occupational Health and Safety Act and fined $200,000.00
across two offences.
The CAS Sanction
The standard period of ineligibility for the violation is two
years; however this may be reduced if a player establishes an
individual case that he bears no significant fault or negligence.
The CAS considered submissions made on behalf of the players to
reduce the two year period, however ultimately did not accept them
and imposed a two year period of ineligibility commencing from 31st
March 2015. Consequently, the 34 players will be ineligible to play
until 13th November 2016.
Breach of Contract
In the current circumstances, the players were employees of the
Essendon Football Club and employed under an employment contract
called the Standard Players Contract. That contract has a clause
whereby the club promises to provide the players with a working
environment that is safe and without risk. Proceedings were brought
by the WorkSafe Victoria, the Essendon Football Club pleaded guilty
to breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Therefore,
that essentially gives rise to a breach of contract cause of action
for the players.
There is no right of appeal for the players in relation to the
decision. However, the players could consider civil action against
the Essendon Football Club for breach of its duties towards its
players, particularly in light of the criminal convictions. The
importance of the decision on the Australian sporting landscape
will have far reaching consequences not only affecting individual
players and Essendon, but also other AFL Clubs to whom players are
The 34 players are due to be sentenced later this month. It will
be interesting to see if the players pursue civil action for breach
of contract at a later stage.
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