In the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and its devastating effects for cycling as a sport, the issue of doping in Australian sports has been on the public radar. Last week’s “bombshell” report by the Australian Crime Commission on the alleged widespread use of illegal drugs in Australian sports has left AFL and NRL clubs eager to assure governing bodies that their practices have not been in breach of the World Anti-Doping Agency Code, according to ABC News. AFL club Essendon is being investigated by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) with regards to the club’s employment of sports scientist Steve Danks to tailor supplement programs for players in 2012. The ramifications, if the club is found to have been in breach of code rules, could span from brand damage to a four year ban from competition.
As reported by the Herald Sun, AFL Players Association CEO Matt Finnis has suggested the ASADA investigation should focus on the sports scientists rather than the players. He suggested that although players accept responsibility for substances ingested, they can be “unwittingly” caught up in illegal conduct. Players and coaches claim to have been “in the dark” about Danks’ supplement regime. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), however Danks claims that every supplement he prescribed to Essendon was within the WADA guidelines, heavily discussed with management and players, and recorded in an electronic register. He also suggested that there were consent forms signed by the players. The SMH also suggested that there is evidence that coach James Hird and high-performance manager Dean Robinson took supplements under Danks’ guide that were outside the WADA code. The investigation has found that Danks’ other business interest, two medical ‘rejuvenation clinics’ in NSW and Victoria, are selling a supplement that is banned by ASADA, can have the same effect as human growth hormone, and is undetectable in drug testing.
As The Daily Telegraph reports, Danks’ previous employers and clients including five NRL and two AFL clubs all agree that he was not afraid to push boundaries, and encouraged the use of “unorthodox” substances such as calf-blood injections and radical, highly expensive herbal products. The Manly Warrigah Sea Eagles’ manager reportedly reacted to the news of accusations against Danks by stating there were “never any concerns” that Danks’ programs violated the NRL and WADA’s rules.
As reported by ABC News, Danks’ lawyer Greg Stanton has suggested Danks is a ‘scapegoat’ for the buzz amid the AFL and NRL community following ‘strenuous denials’ of using banned substances. This was after 6 NRL clubs and Essendon were mentioned in the ACC report. To date, the ACC has not released any information to suggest actual proof of clubs breaching any governing bodies’ protocols, and as Stanton suggests, much unsubstantiated, vague information is at the centre of the controversy. According to the ABC, the WADA President commented that the ACC has taken a “very public approach to doping allegations”, and despite the fact that Essendon did not exhibit improved performance throughout 2012, with the pre-season beginning last weekend such controversy can tarnish the sport and bring quality players under close scrutiny. Perhaps the investigation will at the very least serve as a warning to all elite athletes about the ramifications of menacing with drugs.