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Watson to hand back AFL Brownlow Medal

AAP logoAAP 11/11/2016 Jason Phelan

The Essendon supplements saga that has blighted the AFL landscape for so long has drawn closer to a conclusion, with a dignified yet defiant Jobe Watson announcing he has decided to hand back his Brownlow Medal.

With an AFL Commission meeting looming, Watson announced on Friday he would return his 2012 medal.

He was one of 34 past and present Bombers players suspended for the 2016 season for anti-doping code violations arising from the club's ill-fated supplements program.

The commission, while relieved of the onerous task of stripping Watson of the award, must decide on Tuesday if 2012 joint runners-up, Richmond's Trent Cotchin and Sam Mitchell - then with Hawthorn - will be awarded medals retrospectively.

Watson, who only announced in September he would return to the club, said he made the decision to hand back the award with mixed emotions.

"The basis of my decision links back to values," Watson said in a statement.

"Football has always been a part of my life, from being a young boy watching my dad play, to my own ambitions of pursuing a dream to play at an elite level.

"I have benefited from being brought up in a community where people strive to be the best they can be and bring out the best in others. It has been incredibly distressing for me to have people question my integrity and infer an intention to act against the spirit of the game - a spirit that is intrinsically a part of who I am.

"The basic principle behind this prestigious award is to honour the fairest and best. If there is a question in people's minds as to whether the 2012 award is tainted, the fairest and best thing to do is to give it back and honour the history that has gone before me."

The AFL praised Watson's move and said his statement would be considered when the commission met to decide the future of the 2012 medal.

"The AFL acknowledges that this was an extremely difficult decision to make," AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said.

"In Jobe's own words, he is honouring the history of the medal and putting the interests of the game first, and this is an honourable position for him to have taken."

The 34 players involved in the club's 2012 supplements program have steadfastly maintained their innocence and Watson has been at pains to make it clear his decision had not been an admission of guilt.

Those players were sensationally suspended when the Court of Arbitration for Sport in January upheld a World Anti-Doping Agency appeal.

Lawyers representing the players appealed the ruling at the Swiss Federal Tribunal, but that bid was dismissed in October - an action Watson said brought an end to the matter from a legal standpoint.

Essendon issued a statement shortly after Watson's announcement, apologising for putting him in an untenable position.

"Jobe has remained unassailably dignified under the most-extraordinary pressure over the past four years," Essendon chairman Lindsay Tanner said.

"The club takes responsibility for placing Jobe in this position and unreservedly apologises to him and his family.

"Jobe is a person of the highest integrity and character and has the total support and admiration of our membership, staff, executive and board.

"The Essendon family has been, and will continue to be, incredibly proud of Jobe Watson."

Watson had previously declined an invitation to put his case to keep the medal to the AFL Commission.

But he expressed his desire to share his frustration over the whole investigative process with the commission in a forum and at a time that was right for him.

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