Critical of Essendon officials for championing a culture that represents all that is wrong with sport throughout last year’s doping investigation, a leading sports business academic has depicted the Bombers as irresponsibly defiant.
Professor Hans Westerbeek, an expert panellist at an integrity forum attended by some of Australian sport’s most influential figures in Melbourne on Tuesday, highlighted Essendon’s persistence with the ''whatever it takes'' marketing slogan as a significant and damaging mistake.
The dean of Victoria University’s College of Sport and Exercise Science, and AFL Europe board member, Westerbeek concluded that “at a deeper level of culture [at Essendon], club leaders did not feel individually or collectively responsible for their actions”.
In a column published in Fairfax Media, he also referred to “pseudo-scientists and doctors ... serving Essendon” as “frauds”, and said Australian sport was at a “critical tipping point” regarding integrity.
The Bombers remain the subject of an unresolved Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation for the supplements program run at the club in 2012-13.
Essendon’s decision to stick with its ‘'win-at-all-costs'’ motto throughout last year represented the “visual expression of club culture” at the Bombers, according to Westerbeek.
“The whatever-it-takes attitude towards winning at all costs was not considered morally wrong,'' he wrote, before addressing the forum on Tuesday.
“The problem for sport is not that what Essendon leaders did was morally wrong, but much more that they did not consider it to be wrong.''
New ASADA boss Ben McDevitt, former boss of the World Anti-Doping Agency John Fahey, Australian Sports Commission chief executive Simon Hollingsworth, outgoing AFL chief Andrew Demetriou, the chief steward of Racing Victoria, Terry Bailey, and a representative of Victoria Police’s Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit were among the attendees at the ''Winning at What Price?'' forum.
Several members of the AFL’s integrity unit, including senior investigator Gerard Ryan, previously one of Victoria Police’s highest ranking detectives, and analyst Abraham Haddad, were also due at the gathering, along with representatives from six AFL clubs.
The presidents of Fremantle (Steve Harris) and Hawthorn (Andrew Newbold), were among the confirmed guests, along with the chief executives of Melbourne (Peter Jackson) and Richmond (Brendon Gale).
The presidents and CEOs of all 18 AFL clubs were invited. Essendon’s chief finance officer, Kevin Dixon, was the Bombers’ representative.
Highly critical of the notion of winning at all costs, Westerbeek argues the major threat to integrity developed through the commercialisation of sport and the application of “capitalist business values”.
The concept of ''fair play'', has ''transitioned to rubbery interpretations'','' he says. Westerbeek cites club environments with ''parent'' coaches, or even ''poorly trained professionals who treat 10-year-olds like adult athletes'' as problematic because they ''stimulate them with a disproportionate emphasis on the importance of winning”.