Essendon football club supplement crisis from 2013-2017

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The use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sport is prohibited in all countries that take part in professional sport. The use of drugs and other substances to improve the performances of athletes is known as doping, some of the effects of doping include harming the athletes health and forming an unfair playing field (Dimeo 2007). The World Anti-Doping Agency deals with issues related with doping in the world. WADA is involved in the development of anti-doping policies, education, research, and formation of anti-doping organizations in nations. Within Australia, Australian Sports Ant-Doping Authority (ASADA) does the regulation and formulation of rules and policies regarding drug use in sport. In 2013, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) released a report on the use of new generation image and performance enhancing drugs in professional sports. This report sends shockwaves in the sporting community in Australia. Also, the report led to the investigation of several sports organizations in Australia including Essendon Football Club that played in the Australian Football League (AFL). The football club was investigated over the use of its supplements program in the 2011/2012 AFL season. Investigations on the club took more than four years, and the banned peptide Thymosin beta-4 was determined to be the compound used by thirty-four players who were found guilty and suspended from playing in the league (Robinson & Epshteyn, (2009). Initial investigations failed in determining if the supplements program was legal but brought into light, poor governance in managing the problem. August 2013 is when ACC took action on the club by fining them $2 000 000, suspending their senior coach and general manager, and banned them from playing in that year’s final series. The Essendon Football Club doping scandal is the largest in AFL history as it has run from 2012 to 2017. The suspension of thirty-four players in January 2016 that were found guilty of using performance-enhancing substances. The aim of this case study is to provide the background and timelines on the investigation done by Essendon Football Club in general including the players. Besides, the study reveals how the media handled some of the issues and how they would have done it differently.


Media and Crises

The media is a vital stakeholder in crises as information on the organizations under investigation are collected and well analyzed by the media. The average person does not easily contact information on events that take place in the outside world, and thus the media comes in handy in providing this information (An et al. 2009). Studies have proven that the media performs a vital role in crises like in the case of the Essendon Football Club drug scandal. Some important researchers include that done by Caldiero et al. (2009), where about 17 fraud crises were dealt with using the image management method by identifying specific organizational statements that would be provided to the media. Press release by the specific organizations related to the crises was provided to the media thus providing the organizations with an opportunity to present their side of the case. Another scholar Holladay (2010) analyze several chemical accident crises with an objective of finding out the information that the media were provided through communication crisis strategy. Both the studies show the importance of media effects on crises and the need for further research on ways that organizations can manage the media in cases of crises or scandals.

Crisis communication

In crises, the image and reputation of an organization are critical. Therefore, the way communication is handled during crisis becomes integral in maintaining the image of an organization. Each phase of a scandal or crisis has its demand or need in the process of sharing information(An et al. 211). Two major processes of communication are needed in managing crises including management of crisis knowledge and management of stakeholder reactions (Combs, 2010). The management of crisis knowledge entails identifying sources of information, collection and analysis of information, making decisions, and sharing of the information (Pang 2012). Managing stakeholder reactions, on the other hand, involves efforts that are made to influence the way stakeholders perceive the scandal. Organizations, therefore, have the responsibility of projecting how stakeholders react to crises and make efforts to influence their perceptions (Fearn-Banks 1996).

Corporate Governance

Corporate governance has become very critical for sporting clubs over the last decade (Cooper, 2012). Sports organization has managers, a board of governors and owners. The relationship between these three organs of the sports organizations is what is referred to as corporate governance (Bernile & Lyandres, 2011). For many AFL clubs including EFC, the club members are the owners of the club. The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in March 2013 released improvised government principles that needed sporting organizations to abide by for them to get government funding. The main aspects associated with good sports governance as per the ASC are integrity, good judgment, responsibility, transparency, accountability, and leadership (ASC, 2012). ASC (2012) stipulates six primary principles if corporate governance. The first principle deals with the composition of the board and its powers and roles. The second principle governs issues dealing with the processes carried out in and by the board. The third principle deals with the governance systems. Principle number four is on the performances of the board and the reporting process. The fifth principle is the relationship between the stakeholder and the sports organization and reporting on the same. Finally, the sixth principle is on issues that govern sports ethics and proper decision-making. The standard of corporate governance across most of the football leagues in the world is below the expected standard, and football clubs take advantage of this as in the case of Essendon Football Club.

Dealing with issues about crises and the media comes back to corporate governance. Proper corporate governance allows organizations to deal with the media in an efficient way when faced with scandals or crisis. Providing information to media and allowing them to report on only what they are provided with forms is a key issue regarding how a corporate is managed and governed. Therefore corporate governance forms a critical part in media handling when an organization is faced with crisis or scandal.

The Essendon Football Club doping scandal.

An advertisement from Essendon Football Club reads ‘we can beat anyone as long as we do whatever it takes.’ The slogan is daring and captures football fans eyes, but the Australian football club has become popular for the wrong reasons. The slogan was the club’s motto for the 2012/2013 AFL season, and the timing was made wrong by the evidence presented on the club’s supplements program leading to the start of the biggest drug scandal regarding sports in Australia to date. Years after numerous presentation of evidence, in-depth investigation and court proceedings the club and players have yet to answer some important questions. It is funny since players were not even aware of what they were given or injected into their bodies. One player former, Hal Hunter was quoted saying, “If I don’t get this information and I don’t get the answers to the questions I’m asking, it’s never going to go away.» This case provides insight into the way the club treated its players regardless of the health effects of the substances.

In February 2013, ASADA and AFL investigated the club’s supplement scandal managed by Dr. Stephen Dank under permission from the club’s management. About seven months later sanctions were imposed on the club because of new developments in the investigation. March 2013 led to significant revelations including that of players being injected more than forty times each. Some of the injections were AOD-9604, which is an anti-obesity drug that was banned by WADA and ASADA. Another revelation came to light in May that Dr. Dank had ordered Beta 4 CJC-1295 another banned substance from Charter, a biochemist. An independent investigation concludes that Essendon Football Club had used banned supplements and therefore creating a poor environment as never before seen in the Club (EFC, 2013). The club had to respond to the investigation through its chairperson by promising harsh measures towards the use of drugs and apologizing to the fans.

ASADA started interviewing EFC players on thirty-five substances under investigation. With the pressures of ongoing investigations on the club, the CEO Mr. Ian Robson resigned and gave a statement that included his admittance of wrongdoing and took blame for all the issues affecting the club; the supplements program included even though he had no knowledge of it. He said that the club had disappointed its players, families, and fans.

August 2013 is when the real bombshell exploded as ASDA provided the AFL with a detailed interim report that forced the AFL to announce that the club had brought disrepute into the game trough the coach, assistant coach, football manager, and club doctor. Sanctions were handed to the persons that held those positions namely James Hird, Mark Thompson, Danny Corcoran, and Dr. Bruce Reid.

Essendon Football Club and the Media.

There are several ways that EFC handled some of the issues concerning media and reporting.

The club released a statement denying any involvement with Mick Gatto who had revealed his involvement with the club in an interview by nine. He revealed that the club officially approached him through a club official to help the club deal with the saga. He was quoted saying “Shane came and seen me and said, ‘Mate, I’ve been hard done by here. I can prove beyond any doubt that the supplement that they brought over here, the Thymosin 4, whatever it is; I can prove it was not that. It was something else.» «We tried to do a deal with some members of Essendon; we tried to do a deal, Charter wanted to be paid for it, for his hardship and what he’s been through, they wouldn’t hand over.” The club declined this stating that the club president was approached by the underworld to help in dealing with the saga, but he declined.

EFC handling of the media on as in the press release to answer the allegations by Mick Gatto was based on three strategies or actions. The corrective strategy that entailed the club’s ability to cooperate with the agencies of investigation including WADA, ASADA, and AFL. The shift blame actions that entails the clubs shifting blame instead of taking responsibility. The club management board shifted blame to the doctors, managers, and players by indicating that they were not aware of what was being practiced in the supplements program. The last strategy the club used in handling the media is bolstering actions that entail rebuilding consumer trust and ensuring that there is an intolerance to breaking the internal laws of the club and poor behavior by any members.

Different measures of handling the issue

Minimization is one of the key efficient ways that EFC would have handled the drug scandal issue to the media. Minimization would involve providing the media with minimal but detailed information to ensure that what is reported is right and not rumors. Minimization would the club continued to maintain its image that had already been affected. (Benoit & Pang 2008)

Another strategy would be to use gatekeeping as a theory of information management (DeFleur & DeFleur 2016). This would entail putting in place special forces that would facilitate information passage. The strategy first starts with surveillance where the media needed proper study. Correlation is the second part of the study where the media has the mandate to report on issues, and therefore EFC would have integrated with the media and provide them with proper information instead of letting them obtain from other sources.

Lastly, by setting an agenda to be followed by the media would have also handled the matter efficiently. The strategy is based on the fact that there is a certain correlation between the place of the media in reporting issues and emphasis it creates through reporting. The club using the strategy would have ensured that selective information would have been communicated to the world and not the shocking in-depth revelations the world received.


The use of performance-enhancing substances in sport has gained the much-needed attention of the stakeholders including, doping agencies, governments, and the sports organizations over the last few years. The Essendon Football Club doping scandal which is the biggest ever in Australian sports history to date is a case of knowing but not caring. The supplement program by the football club came under investigation because of evidence that came into light on an illegal business that took place under the noses of the management. The club’s handling of the media about the issue was poor, and the use of better measures as explained would have ensured damage limitation to the image of the club.


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