Doping probe's threat to AFL remains

Testifying before a Senate estimates committee hearing on Wednesday, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's outgoing chief declared at an end the first phase of an investigation that has fixated a sporting nation.

So where are we?

While it is true that Aurora Andruska's latest update was a milestone, this story - already judged by some critics to be long-winded - has only just reached the definitive point in the plot. Only now, after 13 months of interviews and document gathering, can the seminal words in this unprecedented probe be penned.

What Andruska told us this week is that stage one is done. What that means behind the scenes at ASADA is that it's now over to a branch known within the organisation as the ''enforcement unit'' to do its thing.

That formidable sounding unit refers to a team of ASADA lawyers employed to bring an investigation like this home. Once comprising four lawyers, the unit has expanded considerably in the past year and can call on the world's best sports law minds to assist.

The enforcement unit's task now is to prepare the crucial evidentiary briefs on any - and every - player or support person at Essendon or Cronulla football clubs that ASADA has deemed a ''person of interest''.

The enforcement unit will consider the evidence collected during the phase that Andruska deemed complete, judge its credibility and test its compliance - or otherwise - with the ASADA Act, WADA code, and the anti-doping rules of the AFL or NRL.

Every evidentiary brief will contain a recommendation. Simply: whether the subject of the brief has violated anti-doping rules or not. The idea is that all completed briefs will survive any legal challenges.

In terms of time taken to write these briefs, it's different strokes for different folks.

Using two well-aired examples from Essendon over the past year, it's obvious that any briefs prepared on David Zaharakis and Jobe Watson would be vastly different beasts.

If public statements are to be believed, one player (Zaharakis) had no needles at all during the Bombers' supplements program. The other (Watson) said last June that he believed he had been injected with AOD-9604 after being assured the substance was legal.

Given WADA maintains AOD-9604 is banned, any evidentiary brief prepared on the Bombers' skipper would be a more complex and time-consuming exercise.

Australian anti-doping rules dictate that evidentiary briefs are handed over to ASADA's Anti-Doping Rules Violation Panel; a seven-member group with varied expertise in sport, the law, medicine and anti-doping.

Andrew McLachlan, a professor of pharmacy at the university of Sydney who has worked with the national anti-doping authority since 1999, is the panel's chairman.

Its job is to decide whether it agrees with the recommendation contained in each evidentiary brief. These rulings will determine whether infraction notices are issued to Essendon and Cronulla footballers, or support personnel - something that would be carried out by the AFL or NRL, which are obliged to act on the panel's direction.

Former Federal Court judge Garry Downes, engaged by new federal Sports Minister Peter Dutton to help ASADA through this pointy end of proceedings, will presumably be involved in the enforcement unit's work. Downes is expected to update Dutton in April. Some interpret this as a resolution time, but that seems as likely as Stephen Dank inviting ASADA investigators for tea.

Evidence of just how long it could take for the next stage to unfold is the case of NRL player Sandor Earl. After receiving an infraction notice six months ago, Earl awaits the tribunal hearing to determine his fate. Meanwhile, he remains provisionally suspended.

Asked to estimate a resolution timeframe for the broader NRL/AFL cases from this point, ex-ASADA boss Richard Ings said this week it would be ''months'' at a minimum.

Ings added that even if infraction notices were issued today, it would be at least another year before tribunals determined any sanctions, and even longer if there were appeals.

So, where are we?

Essendon and Cronulla footballers begin new seasons with a threat looming, and two codes must remain braced to be devastated all over again.

WHERE TO NOW 

THE CRUCIAL PLAYERS IN ASADA'S WORK

The 'enforcement unit' ASADA's team of lawyers (around half a dozen), who will almost certainly work with specially employed outside counsel.

Garry Downes
Retired Federal Court judge engaged by new federal sport/health minister Peter Dutton to report back in April about the state of the investigation. It's expected Downes will also assist ASADA's enforcement unit with evidential briefs, a process that's now officially under way.

ASADA's Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel, the seven-member body engaged to work 'at arms length'from ASADA. In this case, the ADRVP will determine whether it approves or rejects recommendations - whether doping has occurred or not - in the evidentiary briefs prepared on individual AFL and NRL footballers and support personnel.

Professor Andrew McLachlan
- ADRVP chair
Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney and Concord Hospital. Member of Australia's Anti-Doping Research Panel. Involved with ASADA (and former Australian Sports Drug Agency) since 1999.

Andrew Hughes
Worked for Australian Federal Police for 32 years. Former Commissioner of Fiji Police (2003- 2006) and police adviser to the United Nations and director of the UN Police Division (2007-2009). Former executive committee member of Interpol.

Tracey Gaudry
Vice-president of cycling's international world governing body, the UCI. Former professional cyclist and two-time Olympian.

Hayden Opie
Sports law program director at the University of Melbourne. Founding president of the Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association.

Dr Diana Robinson
Former Australian team doctor for Commonwealth Games and medical director of triathlon at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Former medical director of Triathlon Australia.

Michelle Gallen
Sports lawyer and former senior advisor and policy manager for ASADA. Former Triathlon Australia board member.

Karen Harfield
Covert investigation and intelligence expert. Former detective chief inspector with the National Crime Squad

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop