THERE would have been groans heard around the country yesterday when it was announced the World Anti-Doping Agency was planning to appeal the decision to find 34 past and present Essendon players not guilty of taking banned substances. Groans would have been followed by cries of "Here we go again".
After a drawn-out two-year investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, the matter seemingly ended with an independent anti-doping tribunal letting the players off due to insufficient evidence in March, and ASADA deciding not to take the matter further.
WADA, however, confirmed yesterday it was opting to take up its right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Essendon hierarchy was shocked by the international watchdog's decision after ASADA failed to convince Justice John Middleton or any of his fellow tribunal members that the players had taken thymosin beta-4 as part of the club's supplements program in 2012.
"After a thorough examination of the evidence contained within the file, WADA has decided to lodge its independent right of appeal to the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport,'' WADA Director General David Howman said in a statement.
So, now instead of focussing on Etihad Stadium and beating North Melbourne this Friday night, the Bombers' thoughts will now turn back to the courtroom.
"I got an email at 6.16 this morning that WADA was going to appeal,'' Bombers coach James Hird told reporters yesterday. "That surprised us that they've appealed, but they have and we have to deal with it.''
Current Essendon stars such as skipper Jobe Watson and Dyson Heppell, and ex-Bombers Patrick Ryder and Angus Monfries (Port Adelaide) and Stewart Crameri (Bulldogs) sat out the pre-season ahead of the anti-doping tribunal.
But the footballers at the centre of the saga will be permitted to continue playing during this appeal process.
"There's no doubt it will cause stress again, but we're prepared to go through it," Hird said. "We believe in the players' innocence. They've been proven innocent once and they will be proven innocent again."
The Court of Arbitration for Sport is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, and has courts located in Sydney and New York, though the matter could be heard in Melbourne, on a date to be decided.
"(It's) early days, but I would have thought it probably could be heard reasonably quickly,'' Bombers chairman Mark Little told Melbourne radio.
"Everyone involved has pretty much got their lives back ... but now it looks like we have to jump back on the horse."