OPINION: Essendon Bombers right to be cleared for takeoff

THE fact that it took so long to reach the verdict - 785 days to be precise - may have been a farce.

But the right result was reached on Tuesday when the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal stamped the so-called Essendon 34's papers as 'not guilty'... even if it did come with an asterisk.

The three-man panel headed by David Jones - the former county court judge, not the clothing retailer - came to the conclusion there simply wasn't enough evidence to uphold the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's belief those past and present Bombers were injected with the banned peptide Thymosin Beta-4, during 2012.

Self-reporting in 2013, Essendon itself accepted it had dabbled in certain, let's say, practices, that put its players' health at risk.

An internal probe undertaken by Ziggy Switkowski - which was completed in a matter of months - described Essendon's 2012 sports science program as allowing for "a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or challenged or documented".

Having treated its players like guinea pigs or "pin cushions" - or allowing the controversial Dr Stephen Dank to do so - the club was quite rightly dealt with later that year by the AFL for "bringing the game into disrepute".

The Bombers were fined $2 million, disqualified from contesting the 2013 finals, and senior coach James Hird banned for 12 months.

If it wasn't for the World Anti-Doping Agency's code - and in turn, ASADA's - that says the athlete is ultimately responsible for any substances put into their body, the matter may have ended there, with an adequate punishment already meted to those really in the wrong.

Though they were certainly guilty of being naive, the players deserved to have their names cleared and be free to play without the threat of suspensions hanging over their heads.

While describing Essendon's supplements program as an "injection regime" that was "absolutely and utterly disgraceful", ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt even said it was the players and the fans that were "so poorly let down by the club".

Make that the fans of footy in general who have had to endure this painfully drawn-out saga, which is surely at an end.

The tribunal was reportedly damning of ASADA's case, and so even if there is to be an appeal the government body will almost surely come up short again.

No doubt the major positive to come out of all of this is a comprehensive clean-up of all clubs' dietary programs, especially the ones that also pushed the boundaries but managed to avoid the spotlight.

And we can finally move on with a drug-free AFL.

Oh, hang on ...

There is still that little matter of Collingwood's Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas testing positive to the performance-enhancing clenbuterol in February.

Surely, in this current climate, with big dark doping clouds having hung over the competition for the past two years, the Queensland pair wouldn't have been so stupid as to knowingly take a banned substance.

It must have been those bloody Kiwi restaurateurs ... surely?



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