Essendon players accused of illegal doping want to remain anonymous, as the club lost its bid to halt ASADA’s investigation into its supplements program.
The AFL club argued in the Federal Court its players should not have to respond to drug allegations until after it concludes its court battle with the anti-doping body.
But Justice John Middleton rejected the application for an injunction, meaning players could have just 14 days to respond to the accusations.
Lawyers for the 34 current and former players also made it known they wanted to remain outside of the court stoush which will begin on August 11.
David Grace QC, for the players, said their identities were protected and joining the court battle would lead to them being publicly named.
“The players do not seek to be joined, they seek to avoid the expense and stress,” Mr Grace told the court on Friday.
“They have been advised that there is no requirement that they be joined and they are very sensitive to the issue of anonymity.”
Mr Grace warned the players would take legal action if they were required to respond to ASADA’s show-cause notices, which outline the doping allegations, before the trial commences.
Essendon’s barrister Neil Young QC said the club’s legal team was open to raising any legal point on behalf of the players.
Justice Middleton will decide next week whether the players will be formally added to the case.
“I have to ensure this process accords natural justice to all,” he said.
Mr Young argued that anything but a complete halt to ASADA’s investigation would leave the club’s players on tenterhooks.
His bid was rejected by Justice Middleton, following ASADA’s decision to push back its July 11 deadline for the players to respond to the show-cause notices.
The court heard ASADA now agreed to remove any deadline, but it could reimpose a 14-day window for response at any time after June 30.
Essendon will challenge both the joint nature of the ASADA-AFL investigation and alleged breaches of player confidentiality that occurred as a result.
Mr Young said before the act giving ASADA its powers was changed in August 2013, it required the body to conduct its own investigation, not jointly with the AFL.
“There are strict obligations on ASADA with respect to information obtained in its investigation,” Mr Young also said.
“In our submission there is a very strong case that those confidentiality obligations have been transgressed.”
Essendon chairman Paul Little said while the court did not grant the injunction, it accepted the club was sufficiently protected by ASADA’s 14-day undertaking.
“Today represents a small but significant step forward bringing these matters to a close for our players and their families,” Mr Little said outside court.
The court also heard Essendon coach James Hird, who has been studying in France, will return to Australia on July 28.
His lawyer Nick Harrington requested access to documents relating to the AFL’s discussions with ASADA.
ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt welcomed the court’s decision to set an August hearing date and said he wouldn’t call on the players to respond to the show-cause notices before the trial.
“At this point in time, I have no intention of taking any further action in relation to these particular matters prior to a decision by the trial judge,” he said in a statement.
The case will go back to court for a further directions hearing on Wednesday.