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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

On the day before the Bombers were to face the Kangaroos in their first match of 2014, the Essendon saga of 2013 once again exploded. Tania Hird, the wife of suspended Essendon coach James, was interviewed on an Australian television program and repeated the allegation that AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou tipped off then Essendon chairman David Evans regarding the Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) report. She went on to say that she was listening on a speaker phone to a conversation between her husband and Evans shortly before Hird was due to be interviewed by ASADA and that she was "taking … lots of notes.” According to Tania, Evans told Hird not to tell ASADA what they were told by Demetriou to which James responded "if I'm not asked about it, I won't offer it up, but if I'm asked about it, like anything I'm asked about, I will answer it honestly and truthfully and to the best of my knowledge."

Tania Hird claims that Essendon was told the club would be investigated for performance enhancing drugs and supplements. However Demetriou, Evans and the ACC have continually denied such allegations. Demetriou is also adamant that the ACC report, to which he was privy, did not mention any specific club. Hird added that her husband only agreed to his 12 month suspension because of bullying from AFL officials. "He didn't plead to any breach of the player rules, he wasn't found guilty of any breach of the player rules … it was the threats and bullying of the AFL to the club and to himself.” She said her husband had been made the scapegoat. She also fired a shot at the AFL saying that while the game is great, the AFL itself is an industry where “a lot of people are frightened about speaking the truth, about speaking their mind."

When James Hird, who is currently on a study trip abroad, was asked about Tania and her comments, he replied that he always stood by her and supported her in whatever she did. Not so the general public, Essendon or the media. Tania Hird was heavily criticized and there were many who said James Hird should be immediately fired and not be allowed to return once his suspension ends. The Bombers moved quickly to resolve the situation, calling a board meeting on March 25 to speak with Hird via telephone and requested Tania’s presence. Tania expressed displeasure to the media, saying she "was not a piece of cattle and I'm not an employee” and that it was “offensive to suggest that I'd be hauled anywhere." The club, during the meeting, did apologize to her for what was portrayed by some media outlets as a club order.

However the Board also expressed displeasure at her comments. At the two hour meeting, which chairman Paul Little described as “robust”, James and Tania were told that the club was very unhappy about her comments, saying they were inflammatory and had caused "untold stress, damage and harm … and … continued to hurt Essendon as it worked to rebuild its reputation.” The club was also angered that neither James nor Tania had contacted the club regarding the interview or the details of the interview prior to her going on air.

After the meeting, Little fronted the media and said that James Hird would remain senior coach and resume that role when his suspension concluded. However Little also said that he and the Board had made it clear to James and Tania Hird that the club needed to move forward and focus on the season ahead without the distraction of public comments from the couple. Little did say that both James and Tania had spoken of the hurt and anguish they had suffered because of ongoing criticism of James. However he also said that it was time for James to let go and get over his anger. He acknowledged the frustration Hird would be feeling but said the interests of the club must remain greater than any individual.

It is believed Hird has been given a detailed and tougher set of protocols around his and Tania’s public behavior. The club admitted they had no control over Hird’s supporters or other family members – including his father who has been vocal in his criticism of the AFL – and said they believed that Hird would have a chance to tell his side of the story once the ASADA investigation is completed. While they made no apologies to the board, the Hirds conceded the damage done by Tania’s comments and the Board is of the opinion that Hird himself will try to persuade other family members and supporters to back off.

Not only has the Board warned Hird, but the playing group has spoken as well. A contingent led by captain Jobe Watson has requested Hird not air his grievances anymore and allow them to concentrate on playing. Their concern is that negative publicity will take a toll on the team.

In a related matter, Stephen Dank was issued a “show cause” letter by ASADA. It is believed the letter contains a list of 34 infractions all relating to his program at Essendon. Neither he nor his lawyers would make any comments and he is still refusing to be interviewed by ASADA, saying he wants to heard in an open court. He could receive a similar letter from ASADA regarding his work with rugby club Cronulla, where he was employed several years ago in a similar capacity.


Article last changed on Friday, March 28, 2014 - 6:32 AM EDT

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