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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian Rules club Essendon have failed in their bid to halt a lengthy investigation by the country's national anti-doping agency into drugs violations, leaving more than a dozen of their players facing bans from the game.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) charged 34 current and former Essendon players with drugs violations in June following a 16-month investigation into the club's supplements programme in 2012.
Essendon, who compete in the top-flight Australian Football League, went to the Federal Court in Melbourne seeking an injunction to halt the investigation to allow a court case brought by the club against ASADA to be held last month.
The Melbourne-based club and coach James Hird, who recently completed a 12-month ban issued by the AFL for bringing the game into disrepute, claimed ASADA's joint investigation with the AFL was illegal and sought to have the probe quashed.
Federal Court Justice John Middleton, however, dismissed the action, allowing ASADA to continue their prosecution of the 34 players.
Twenty Essendon players and another 14 no longer at the club will have to respond to the charges -- known as 'show cause' notices -- or face sanctions.
"In my view ASADA complied with the rule of law in establishing and conducting, in the manner and for the purposes it did, the investigation," Middleton said in his judgement on Friday.
ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt welcomed the decision.
"These players still have a case to answer under the World Anti-Doping Code and Australia's National Anti-Doping scheme," he said in a statement.
"Our aim has always been to expose what happened at Essendon in 2012 and we steadfastly remain committed to this."
The investigation centred on the use of peptides, which are short chains of amino acids that athletes can take in supplement form to aid muscle growth and re-generation.
A number of them are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Essendon chairman Paul Little and Hird told reporters in Melbourne they were "disappointed" with the verdict. The club said they would consider appealing.
"The club maintains its confidence that, on all the evidence available to us, neither harmful nor banned substances were given to the players during the supplements program of 2012," they said in a statement.
The supplements probe also found wrongdoing in the top-flight National Rugby League, with 17 players accused of using banned substances when playing at the Sydney-based Cronulla Sharks in 2011.
Last month, 12 current and former Cronulla players accepted one-year bans from ASADA, which were controversially backdated to Nov. 2013, ensuring that most of them would only miss a handful of regular season games.
Essendon's players, having already rejected an offer to cut a deal with ASADA, are unlikely to receive similar lenience.
"The process is now in the hands of ASADA," the AFL said.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington and Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty