The Court of Arbitration for Sport last week upheld the World Anti-Doping Agency’s appeal against the AFL tribunal decision to clear 34 players of taking a banned substance while Hird was coach, handing 34 past and present players a 12-month ban.
Speaking at The Ethics Centre in Sydney, in an interview live streamed on the ABC, Hird said he should have done more to prevent the situation that has now enveloped the club, cruelling its performance since 2102 and potentially ending careers.
“It is not just 2016 that it has wiped off [for the players] and potentially beyond but it has been 2013, ’14 and ’15 where they weren’t able to get the opportunity to play the football to their ability,” he told interviewer Tracey Holmes.
“I have a level of responsibility in that. I should have known more. I should have done more when the opportunity came.
“I feel extremely guilty for that and bad for that. I can only apologise for that. I made decisions in real time that in hindsight, I think were wrong.”
But Hird said others at Essendon made the situation worse and, while he had no objection to ASADA freely conducting its own investigation, he hinted the AFL had denied the club and the players a fair hearing.
“I don’t feel like a victim myself but those 34 players are victims of this situation, a situation that, at the first instance, is the responsibility of the Essendon Football Club,” he said.
“The football club and as a part that I had in it, has to put up its hand and say we made mistakes.
“Those mistakes were compounded by people in authority and outside the club.
“When I feel guilt, sadness, devastation for the players, I am also upset at the way the procedural fairness or process was enacted to deny our players procedural fairness and the football club fairness.”
Hird said part of the blame should be shared by club doctor Bruce Reid, who he said approved supplements for use, because he had a better understanding of the supplements and their effects than other members of the club’s hierarchy.
Reid remains at the club.
“We all should have done more and Bruce would admit he should have done more as well,” Hird said.
When asked at what point he thought Dr Reid should have taken more responsibility, Hird said: “I don’t think Bruce should have to leave the Essendon Football Club.”
“Bruce’s primary concern at all times is the welfare of players,” he said.
“Bruce is a very, very good man. I think he has paid a price – not the price that the players have paid – the players have paid the ultimate price for this and their careers, a lot of them, are either ruined or they have gone back a long way.
“I don’t know whether Bruce has taken enough responsibility or not. That is something you will have to ask Bruce but I do know that he has worn a lot of criticism for this.”
Hird said he still believed the substances given to his players were legal.
“At no time did I ever, ever consider that banned or performance enhancing drugs would be at our club,” he said.
“It is just something that never entered my mind. I still to this date don’t believe that anything banned was given to our players.”
Hird said no one can say what substances the players were given.
“Sports scientist Stephen Dank can say for certain what they were injected with,” he said.
“But if that is the case, if no one can say for certain what they were injected with, how can 34 men be found guilty?”
Hird said Dank showed he and others photographs of thymomodulin, an approved supplement, and thymomodulin appeared on spreadsheets related to the supplements program.
Hird said he questions where Dank obtained his supplements and believes Dank had no reason to deliberately dope Essendon players.
“No one knows except Stephen Dank what they put in those injections. I don’t see why he would do it,” he said.
Hird said the saga had changed him, taking a terrible toll on his family.
“Definitely, an experience like this can’t help but change certain elements of you as a person,” he said.
“You are a lot harder. You don’t trust as much.”
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