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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

Several days after Essendon's fighting win over Fremantle, Coach James Hird was interviewed by League officials and investigators regarding the use of supplements at the club last year. While he was under no obligation to keep the details of the interview confidential, he preferred not to discuss the interview with the media, preferring to let the investigations continue to their eventual conclusion.

Just days after, controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank appeared on a television show and revealed that he had had contact with the Melbourne Demons and at least seven players had received injections. Dank was known to the club and their doctor, Don Bates, as the result of unsuccessfully applying for a position at the club. The pair is alleged to have communicated by phone, email and texts. Text messages between Dank and Bates were aired on the program and implicated both in the administration of supplements to players. There was also a text referring to a meeting between Dank and assistant coach Neil Craig (who has a degree in sports science).

Some of the alleged text messages are reproduced below.
Dank to Bates: "Meeting with Neil Craig next Tuesday or Wednesday. Spoke to Dave today."
Bates to Dank: "Great."
Dank to Bates: "When we will start Jack Trengove on the AOD?"
Bates to Dank: "Tomorrow"
Bates to Dank: "Where can I get him to pick it up from?"
Dank to Bates: "The pharmacy. Tell him to ring me and he can meet me there."
Bates to Dank: "... Lynden Dunn would like an injection on Thursday if possible (good about Dunny asking, as he is doing it because the other guys have said they feel good). Dan."
Dank to Bates: "Great. I will book him in."

Another series of exchanges concerned Jack Trengrove: "Should we consider AOD cream for Jack Trengove's navicular," Dank wrote. "Yep," Bates is alleged to have replied, before telling Dank that Trengove could start the treatment the next day. Bates allegedly wrote: "When can we book guys for the injections? We will need to give them times. Dan."

In the texts, Dank gave details of how the club could finance use of substances he prescribed, "OK. I have a way to put the high performance unit as a R&D tax break. That would mean a fair chunk of money going back to the club."

Alleged substances included the anti-obesity drug AOD-9604, cerebrolysin, platelet-rich plasma (PRP), vitamins B and C and antioxidants. PRP, used to treat sports injuries, was removed from WADA's banned list two years ago. The situation is a bit murkier with AOD-9604. While not approved for human use, it was not banned by ASADA. However, WADA has stated that since it has not yet been approved, it is banned.

Dank also claimed he had a letter which he showed to Essendon's doctor Bruce Reid. The letter allegedly stated that all supplements being given to the players were in compliance with all codes. Essendon does not have a copy of that letter.

After the program aired, Bates was stood down by Melbourne as the club issued a statement that they had conducted an internal investigation in February after Essendon contacted authorities. The club claimed they found no evidence of any wrong doing but considered the matter still open until the AFL concluded its investigations. AFL boss Andrew Demetriou expressed concern about the Demons' failure to inform the League of an association between the club and Dank, even though he was never employed with them. The AFL wants further explanations regarding the inconsistencies between what the club told investigators in February and the recent revelations. Demetriou, speaking on a radio program, said the club had been asked directly if they had approached Dank or if he had approached them. The AFL has already questioned Craig and Bates and issued a "please explain" letter to the club.

In the statement released by the club after the television program, the club did admit Dank and Bates had communicated prior to the Essendon investigation but said that Bates always had the final say in the treatment of players. "At no time was Dank to ... treat players ... Dank and Bates communicated ... regarding supplements ... Our processes require Dr Bates to consider the appropriateness of any treatment and make a determination as to its suitability at all times, to ensure ... the welfare of our players is always maintained." In making the announcement regarding Bates, the club said there was concern about a " ... breakdown in communication protocols ... " which would be investigated.

North Melbourne could also be swept into the quagmire after revelations that Dank had a connection to the Kangaroos due to Bates' involvement with the club in 2011. Bates was hired after the club's long time doctor Con Mitropoulos quit when the club brought in a high-performance expert to head up the medical department. It was Mitropoulos' departure at the end of 2010 that first raised alarm bells regarding the increasing influence of sports scientists at clubs. It was similar circumstances which brought Bates to the Demons. Melbourne's Andrew Daff quit after 20 years as the club's doctor when he was told in 2011 that he would have to report to newly-appointed high-performance manager David Misson.

The AFL and the AFLPA have been concerned for some time regarding the influence of sports scientists. The AFL issued an edict at the start of the 2012 season - albeit unofficial - to all clubs that doctors should have the final say. The AFLPA is apparently regretting not endorsing a similar rule.

As for the players who may or may not have taken banned substances, it is the contention of legal experts that they were following instructions as employees and took "reasonable steps" to ensure compliance with the drug codes. The AFLPA believes the classification did not alter the defense players could use. AFLPA CEO Matt Finnis said the culpability for any inadvertent use of a banned substance did not rest with the players. ''Whether it was a prohibited method, a substance ... long acknowledged as being prohibited or ... recently ... prohibited, such as by WADA overnight, the players ... are in a unique position following the directions of their employer ... while everyone acknowledges the WADA code places responsibility with the individual athlete ... that's quite distinct from the issue of culpability - which we would argue, in these circumstances, might ultimately and more appropriately rest with others.'' The players are being represented by union lawyers as well as an outside attorney who has advised player agents that the players could be in a good position as they took steps such as consent forms which stated the substances were compliant.

Andrew Demetriou was on radio on April 26 and agreed with the AFLPA that the players could use ignorance as a defense. The players could escape penalties due to the fact that they were shown the alleged letter, along with the consent forms, which stated that AOD and other substances complied with the rules. However, Demetriou did temper that comment by adding that he was unsure how it would go with ASADA and WADA. WADA's stance is that ignorance is not an excuse.

On a side note, NRL club Cronulla recently lost one of their players to Hodgkins' Lynphoma. The club is another under investigation due to the employment of Stephen Dank in 2011 and the possible use of his supplements. A 60 page report compiled by a former ASADA investigator leaked to News, Ltd indicates a possible "causal link" between the supplements and a relapse of Jon Mannah's cancer condition. According to the report, Mannah was one of a number of players who were given peptides between March and May of 2011. The link has yet to be firmly established, with the club stating expert opinion would be needed from a qualified oncologist to take the matter further. However, AFL Medical Officer Dr Peter Larkin has said that giving peptides to someone with a history of cancer would be the last thing he would recommend as it could cause a relapse of someone in remission. The club has turned the report over to ASADA and the NRL who are continuing to cooperate with authorities.


Article last changed on Monday, April 29, 2013 - 9:44 AM EDT

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