I did promise some notes on the LIV symposium that occurred late last month. Sorry for the delay but I has other pressing matter to attend to.
The Symposium was about "Drugs in Sport"
The Panel consisted of 4 guests. Keynote Address was given by Mark "Bomber" Thompson. Other guests were Paul Horvath, who acted on Bomber's behalf during "negotiations" with the AFL on penalties to be handed down against those held responsible for the governance failures.
Kim Brennan (nee Crow - daughter of Max) current Olympic Gold Medallist in Women's single skulls rowing, also a Lawyer
Professor Patrick Keyzer, Barrister and Head of Law School at La Trobe University, who represented Hal Hunter is his case against the EFC.
There was a lengthy question time at the end of the presentation at which time I, identified as acting spokesperson for J34, was given the opportunity to speak and ask questions.
Paul Horvath didn't have a lot to say and acted more as a moderator than a speaker. He did mention and reiterate what Bomber had mentioned in his address; that Bomber and he were not given the opportunity to defend the charges against Bomber. Decisions had already been made by the AFL and there were to be no negotiations.
During my questions he did interrupt and query why J34 were continuing to call for a Senate enquiry when Minister for Health and Sport, Greg Hunt, had already stated that there would be no such enquiry. My lawyer friend and I were very quick to point out that we didn't believe an internal review by his own department was acceptable as any review needed to be independent. We also added that a MHR does not have the "power" to stop a Senate enquiry, that the Senate is the House of Review and provides oversight of governments and their bureaucrats. He withdrew his comment.
Kim Brennan spoke about her experiences as an elite athlete and how she was identified before Rio as being a genuine chance of a gold medal. She was afforded every opportunity and every resource available to facilitate that result. But she also spoke about the discipline and restraints placed on her by WADA and ASADA. She had to provide her location 24/7 and be prepared for testing at any time. She said that Rowing had put in place very strict regimes and protocols to protect their athletes. Rowers took nothing in terms of supplements and some were so fastidious about their training/preparation that many would only drink bottled water and only drink from a bottle if the tamper-evident seal was still intact.
Kim admitted carefully that WADA and anti-doping in general provides scope for improvement but that the wheels of change turn very slowly at WADA. Naturally occurring substances that can be present at different levels within each individual creates problems for the testers. She pointed out "drugs" that come on and off the banned list. She spoke about concern over the Sharapova case and how WADA's mistake did not prevent them from banning her.
She mentioned Vicks Vaporub is OK to use in Australia because our formulation is OK but the same product in the US contains a banned ingredient.
She did comment in answer to a question about testing that she was representing a client in court and was preparing to leave for court with her client when ASADA turned up at her office for a test. She explained to them that she was scheduled to represent a client within the hour. ASADA refused to budge. After much "discussion" she was forced to call in a Partner to act on her behalf in court. This was distressing to her client who had been working exclusively with Kim in the lead up to the court appearance.
When asked about education about doping she commented that it was very intense, especially for Olympic athletes. She had no idea if this was the same for codes like the AFL. She said that following the education sessions the athletes had to complete a written assessment which she said was quite challenging. Completion of this assessment was compulsory. NOTE: My information is that in 2017 completion of an online questionnaire by AFL players was optional
Patrick Keyzer spoke specifically about the Hal Hunter case, although not about the details of the outcome (settlement). He explained that Hunter was not one of the 34. He explained how difficult it was to access documents held by the EFC. Some records were kept but they were not complete. The case presented many work, health and safety issues which could affect insurance policies and contracts. The case included discussions on mental health issues which remain unresolved. He was concerned about the players and was interested in Bomber's comments on the mental anguish suffered by the players during the saga.
Prof Keyzer was disappointed in the current ASADA/WADA system. He was particularly disappointed with the attitude of ASADA in their procedures and behaviour as antagonistic investigators hell bent on a regime of punishment.
I asked Prof Keyzer about his view on the application of the "comfortable satisfaction" standard of proof as applied firstly by the AFLADT and then the CAS, especially since the main sources of evidence did not exist (positive test, testimony, eye witnesses, documentation, whistleblowers etc). I also included my opinion that because AFL is the biggest game in a sports mad country it holds a high level of public interest which should elevate the standard of proof.
Prof Keyzer offered a very well reasoned argument against the use of the "comfortable satisfaction" level of proof. He firstly stated that the use of the comfortable satisfaction proof test was in conflict with our legal system and that a proof test of "beyond reasonable doubt, as in our Criminal Law System, should have been the applied, given the case deals with issues of honesty, integrity and especially the public interest. Secondly he affirmed his belief that a strong case could be mounted for the application of the criminal law standard of proof in the Essendon based on the high public interest alone.
I believe that his statements in this paragraph are the most profound of all and I want to follow him up on those comments.
I have already posted a review of Bomber's address. Suffice to say it was quite emotional and he is struggling. His comments on the mental anguish of the players were most telling to me and should be of concern to everyone. I remember the AFL CMO, Peter Harcourt saying quite firmly that the AFL were concerned with the players health and would be monitoring all aspects of their health for up to ten years. From what I know this is not happening.
Bomber acknowledged J34 publically and encouraged us to continue to fight. He might be a bit eccentric but in my mind he will always be a legend of the EFC.