Australia's national anti-doping agency charged 34 current and former Australian Rules football players with drugs violations, rocking the country's richest and most well-attended sport.
The charges are the culmination of a 16-month investigation into the administration of dubious supplements in 2012 at the Melbourne-based Essendon Bombers, one of the AFL's oldest and most powerful teams.
"The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority [Asada] has put formal allegations of possible anti-doping rule violations to 34 current and former players from the Australian Football League [AFL]," the agency said yesterday.
"Based on the advice of our legal counsel and a review of the evidence ... I have reached the conclusion that these players have a case to answer under the World Anti-Doping Code," Asada chief executive Ben McDevitt said.
The AFL disqualified Essendon from the competition's playoffs last year, banned the club's head coach James Hird for 12 months and slapped the team with a record fine for bringing the game into disrepute.
The punishments follow an independent probe that the club commissioned, which found governance failures had contributed to a "disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment".
Asada is also investigating the administration of banned supplements to multiple players at one of the country's top-flight rugby league teams, the Sydney-based Cronulla Sharks, and is expected to lay charges in days.
Stephen Dank, a sports scientist formerly employed by Essendon and who also worked with the Sharks, was charged by Asada in March for his part in the supplements programme at Essendon, but has yet to face further action. He has consistently denied wrongdoing and said he will fight charges.
The scandal, which has overshadowed two AFL seasons, has unearthed grisly details about a club's determination to seek an edge in the competition.
Local newspapers reported details of players being taken away from their training base to be injected with peptides in private clinics.
Peptides are short chains of amino acids that athletes can take in supplement form to aid muscle growth and regeneration.
A number of them are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), including growth hormone and the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).
The scandal threatens to bring Essendon to its knees, with most of those charged still active players on the 47-man roster.
First-time doping offenders face a two-year ban, according to the Wada code, but could have their suspensions reduced if they cooperate with authorities.
The players have 10 days to respond to the charges, which Asada refers to as "show cause notices".
McDevitt said he hoped to cut deals. "You could end up going from two years to 12 months to six months," McDevitt told state radio. "What I'm encouraging individuals now, and the club, and the AFL, is to have a think about this very carefully and have discussions with us."
Essendon are ninth in the 18-team table, midway through the AFL's regular season.