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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago
Just ahead of the Round Three match against Fremantle, Essendon was the focus of media attention after Stephen Dank, the club's former sports scientist, told Fairfax media that he injected Coach James Hird with hexarelin, a drug that helps increase the release a human growth hormone and which WADA banned in 2004. According to Dank, the injections were administered for three-quarters of the 2012 season. It seems that information gathered by WADA corroborates Dank's claims. Hird strongly denied the allegations, saying he was horrified by them and that they were made by " a person or people ... determined to destroy my reputation." In a statement, Hird said he was keen to speak with ASADA and the AFL to clear his name and that he had always adhered to the rules and code of ethics. He did admit to several injections in March 2012 but said he thought they were harmless amino acids which he said he took when he was not feeling well. Dank has also claimed he injected assistant coaches James Byrne and Simon Goodwin.

Dank, who has refused to be interviewed by ASADA and WADA and cannot be compelled to so since he is no longer at Essendon, also revealed other substances given to the players. They were an anti-obesity drug called AOD9604, which is not banned, a pig's brain extract called Cerebrolysin which is used to treat Alzheimer's and helps alertness, a substance made from tree bark and the first milk from a mother cow. Dank again contended that the substances he gave to the players were safe. He also contends that Hird knew about his program. A WADA committee has recommended that AOD9604 be banned.

Text messages exchanged between Hird and Dank were broadcast on Australian television news programs. The texts took place last year between January and April and reveal that Hird knew of, and approved, Dank's supplements program. However, they also reveal that Hird set out guidelines to insure adherence to the AFL's code. Dank refers to IV treatments which could be banned under WADA and AFL rules. Another email sent by high-performance manager Dean Robinson also laid out a detailed process for Dank to follow, including gaining approval from club doctor Dr Bruce Reid and players' right of refusal.

The text messages:
March 9
Hird: "Good work today mate, the boys were up and about, we have a lot to work with.
Dank: "IVs start next week and Thymosin with Uniquinon. We will start to see some real effects.

March 27-28
Dank: "That is the IV list that will be completed by Wednesday night.
Hird: "Good work mate, (name deleted) rang me tonight and said how good he felt after he saw you."

April 3, Dank detailed more substances:
"We have cerebrolysin, we will re-oxygenate and re-circulate the brain. We will also be getting Solcoseryl."

Also in April:
Dank: "All IV and injections completed."

On April 11, the Essendon chairman issued a statement in which he said the club found the allegations to be "very distressing" and reiterated the club's cooperation with authorities as well as conducting their own internal investigations. The club, he said, was not investigating the supplements program on the advice of ASADA. However, the board has launched their own review of "our governance process, as well as commissioning independent medical and pharmacological advice". He concluded with a warning that anyone at the club found to have failed "in their duty of care to the players" would be subject to appropriate decisions. Evans later said it was important that Hird be afforded the opportunity to speak with ASADA and have " the basic right to natural justice". He also urged caution but said no decisions would be made until the investigations were complete.

Club doctor Bruce Reid, who is also the Hird family physician, told ASADA he was "marginalized" by club officials whom he told of his misgivings about Dank's program. Reid also said he wrote to the board but it is uncertain whether or not the club directors ever saw the letter. Accompanying Reid were the club's other doctor Brendan De Morton and AFL investigators.

Another Melbourne based doctor not associated with Essendon was also interviewed and told of how Dank authorized him to conduct blood tests on the players. He said he thought it was "weird" but made nothing of the fact that he was engaged for the tests instead of the club's own doctors. Dr. Wilcourt, an anti-ageing and sports nutrition doctor, said Dank had requested informal advice on how to improve the players' health and that he had signed off on forms authorizing the blood tests. He said the issue of doping was the furthest thing from his mind. Although he never met any of the players, never issued any prescriptions nor administered any supplements, he did review the blood test results which were complied by a pathologist and made recommendations on the players needs, such as one needing an increase in growth hormones or another needing "his testosterone up." The reviews and comments were made at Dank's request. He said Dank also discussed with him the supplements required to achieve the desired results.

AFL boss Andrew Demetriou said he was "absolutely shocked" by the claims" and by "the complexity of the substances, the potential injurious nature of these substances ... They are very disturbing particularly when they relate to the health and welfare of young men." When asked about Hird and his alleged role, Demetriou said Hird was entitled to the presumption of innocence and pointed out his stature in the industry, saying "James Hird is one of the finest players to have ever played the game. He's one of the finest contributors to ... Essendon ... and I'm sure he ... is feeling very, very disturbed ... He ... is entitled to have his say ... and we should ... afford him that respect."

He tempered his praise of Hird by again reminding all and sundry that drug use would not be tolerated and anyone violating the rules and/or bringing the game into disrepute would be harshly dealt with. He added "Any club official ... involved with ... players partaking in the use of performance-enhancing substances - there's no place for them in the game ... It doesn't matter who you are ... ". Demetriou says Hird will be held accountable if he has put the duty of care to his players at risk. Asked if Hird should be stood down as coach, Demetriou said the investigations needed to be completed first, but added that Hird should consider stepping aside. Hird has said this was not an option he would consider.

Demetriou also revealed that several people had come forward to provide information under the League's new whistle-blower policy. He said the briefings, which detailed more information not yet available to the public, left him very concerned. Former ASADA chairman Richard Ings echoed Demetriou;s concerns and said the club and/or Hird could be in trouble over the use of IV's. Coaches are not subject to the same rules as players under WADA and ASADA.


Article last changed on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 8:23 PM EDT

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