MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Essendon Bombers have been thrown out of the eight-team Australian Rules playoffs that start next month and fined two million Australian dollars (1.1 million pounds) after a probe by an anti-doping agency.
The Australian Football League (AFL) also suspended Bombers coach James Hird for 12 months as it announced on Tuesday the heaviest sanctions in the sport’s history.
“It’s a drama we hope we’ll never see again,” said AFL commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick in a statement. “This is powerful affirmation that no single club or individual is above our great game.”
The top-flight club and four of their senior officials were charged two weeks ago after the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) submitted an interim report into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the country’s professional leagues.
The Bombers, one of the league’s oldest and most storied franchises, have also been stripped of draft picks for 2013 and 2014.
Manager Danny Corcoran was banned for six months, two months of which is suspended, while assistant coach Mark Thompson received a fine of 30,000 Australian dollars.
Club doctor Bruce Reid will fight on Thursday the charges that were levied against him.
The Bombers have been under a cloud throughout the 2013 AFL season as ASADA probed the programme of supplements the club gave to players in 2011 and 2012.
The team announced in February they were cooperating with the investigation and commissioned an independent review which found governance failures at the club had contributed to a “disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment”.
The probe, which also targeted a club in the National Rugby League, sent shockwaves through sports-mad Australia which has long prided itself on a reputation as a nation that plays fair.
Reporting by Ian Ransom and Amlan Chakraborty; editing by Tony Jimenez