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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

In late January, the AFL held a massive summit to address the illicit drugs policy and what could be done to improve it. The summit was partly a response to two recent events. First, Collingwood official Gary Pert alleged that drug use was more rampant than many believed. In addition, several

players turned themselves in for drug use, purportedly to avoid having a strike against their names. Under current rules, a player who admits to illicit drug use, whether deliberate or accidental, avoids that strike. The AFL is keen to close that loophole. Also discussed was the possibility of allowing clubs to target-test their own players. This could nullify player confidentiality which was a key to the AFLPA agreeing to the policy when it was introduced. Also discussed was binge-drinking and increasing ways to assist players in finding a healthy balance between football and life away from it.

In early February, Essendon chairman David Evans, CEO Ian Robson and Coach James Hird held a hastily convened press conference to announce that they had asked the AFL to investigate the club regarding supplements with which the players were injected during the 2012 season. The announcement was made shortly before a story was about to break in the media. The supplements were introduced by then sports scientist Stephen Dank. Dank was dismissed by the club during the season amid the rising toll of soft tissue injuries impacting the Bombers' season. Now it will be up to the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Administration (ASADA) and the World Anit-Doping Administration (WADA) to determine if there was any wrong-doing. Dank has denied giving players anything illegal. Club officials, while concerned, believe no illicit substances were issued to the players.

However, as the week progressed, a number of key issues emerged. Football commentator Gerard Healy says he took information regarding Essendon and peptides he had received from sports medical sources to then AFL Operations manager Adrian Anderson over a year ago. It seems other media staff have also been investigating the issue recently.

It was revealed that Essendon players were asked to sign waivers before being given the alleged supplements. These are believed to have been signed in the presence of high-performance manager Dean Robinson (who has been demoted), Dank and Hird. It remains to be determined if the waivers were simply confidentiality agreements to prevent other clubs finding out or to absolve the club of any wrong-doing. Some players said they were ordered to continue with the injections despite voicing their concerns mid-season.

Former Bomber Kyle Reimers was interviewed and said that in his opinion the club was close to the edge with the practice. He said that after leaving the club, he began to think that what the players were taking was a bit unusual as was the signing of waivers. Retired Bomber Mark McVeigh blasted Reimers, saying he was simply disgruntled after being delisted. McVeigh said Reimers often turned up to preseason in an unfit state for a professional player. McVeigh also said the forms signed were consent forms, which indicated that the supplements were within the rules. McVeigh, speaking on SEN Radio, said the players were given the injections away from the club due to the need for a sterile environment with a registered nurse present.

Professor David Bishop, who sits on the board of ESSA (Exercise And Sports Science Australia), said there is no record of Dank ever being accredited as a sports scientist, raising concern about his qualifications to work with athletes.

Dank is part-owner of a clinic in Sydney which sells "rejuvenation" drugs through a website. Some of the drugs are peptides (compound amino acids) which have been identified by ASADA and the Australian Crime Commission as drugs which can or are being "misused in ... professional sports and the broader community." Dank has also been linked to a Dr Charter, sometimes known as "Dr Ageless". Charter, also involved in the "rejuvenation" business, was arrested and convicted on drug charges several years ago.

Other clubs could be implicated, as both Robinson and Dank had associations with Geelong, Gold Coast, Brisbane and several rugby clubs. The AFL clubs, while categorically stating they believe there was no wrong-doing during Dank's time with them, also stated they would cooperate fully with authorities.

The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) has been, and is, investigating links between organized crime, performance-enhancing drugs and Customs. A representative from the ACC addressed the aforementioned AFL drugs summit, telling those present that peptides and human growth hormones (HGH) and other similar substances were "flooding into Australia". The ACC believes there is a link between illicit drugs and attempts by organized crime to infiltrate sports in Australia. This comes on the heels of reports that several hundred soccer players and officials worldwide may have been involved in match-fixing.

Former Tiger and Bulldog Nathan Brown and retired Power player Warren Tredrea have come out and said they were offered PEDs by people not associated with their respective teams. Former Bombers Angus Monfries (now with Port Adelaide Power) and Henry Slattery (now with SANFL club Port Adelaide Magpies) will also be questioned.

A former sponsor of Fremantle was fined $3 million for importing unregistered substances. Company officials claim this may have been the result of a systems control error and incorrect advice regarding import regulations. Fremantle CEO Steve Rosich said no Docker player received anything illegal, nor did the company supply the club with any supplements. He further stated that injections at the club were used very sparingly and consisted of nothing more than vitamins.

Essendon officials, including Coach James Hird, have already questioned players individually.

The investigations - which will involve the AFL, WADA, ASADA, ACC, AFLPA, the AFL Coaching Association and other regulatory and government agencies - could well drag on through most of the season. The AFL has already stated that anyone found to have done anything outside of the rules will be punished. While Dank, if found guilty, could face legal charges, the ESSA cannot impose sanctions because he is not registered.

Source: theage.com.au, heraldsun.com.au, sen.com.au, afl.com.au

Article last changed on Sunday, February 17, 2013 - 1:14 AM EST


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