SYDNEY (AFP) - Thirty-four Australian Football League (AFL) players accused of using a banned supplement were cleared by a tribunal Tuesday, although officials at the country's anti-doping watchdog insist there has been wrongdoing.
The AFL said the decision was unanimous after the matter was referred to it by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (Asada) last year, following a lengthy investigation which sent shockwaves through the sport.
The past and present players from Melbourne-based Essendon allegedly used a prohibited substance thought to aid recovery from injury during the 2012 season.
"The tribunal was comfortably satisfied that the substance Thymosin Beta-4 was at the relevant time a prohibited substance under the (anti-doping) code," tribunal chairman David Jones said in a statement.
"The tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that any player was administered Thymosin Beta-4. The Tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that any player violated clause 11.2 of the AFL Anti-Doping Code."
The tribunal has yet to rule on any alleged violations by former Essendon sports scientist Stephen Dank, accused of being the architect of the supplements programme at the club but who has denied any wrongdoing.
The drugs supplement scandal saw the top Australian side in 2013 hit by the AFL with the biggest fine in the sport's history - A$2 million (S$2.1 million) - and coach James Hird banned for 12 months for bringing the game into disrepute.
The sanctions followed a six-month investigation by Asada, which included more than 13,000 documents, into Essendon's 2011-2012 supplement programme.
It found that Essendon either allowed players to be given substances that were prohibited by the AFL Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code, or that the club was unable to determine whether players were administered prohibited substances.
Asada chief executive Ben McDevitt acknowledged Tuesday's decision but insisted there had been wrongdoing.
"What happened at Essendon in 2012 was, in my opinion, absolutely and utterly disgraceful," he said. "It was not a supplements programme but an injection regime and the players and the fans were so poorly let down by the club."
Asada has 21 days to appeal.