Rugby League

License article

No room for Dank to take a breath just yet

Show comments

Stephen Dank has denied any wrongdoing but close followers of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation into the AFL and NRL are perplexed why the sports scientist was not served with an infraction notice as early as March.

If the delay is due to doubts that he qualifies as a ''support person'' under World Anti-Doping Agency's original rules - from which ASADA draws its regulations - they can be dispelled by a definition so broad it covers just about anyone who ever entered a locker room. Dank, although not paid by some clubs, qualifies as a support person because he treated AFL and NRL players.

According to former Canberra player Sandor Earl, who alleges Dank supplied him with CJC-1295, a prohibited substance, on more than 10 occasions, Dank could be charged with trafficking and potentially banned for life.

If the evidence against Dank is so compelling, he may not even be interviewed by ASADA, raising the question why he has not already been served with an infraction notice. The delay in charging him has raised fears he could have been treating other players in the interim. However, ASADA merely orders infraction notices, rather than issues them. It is the responsibility of a sport to serve the notices and convene a tribunal.

It can happen quickly. It took only 48 hours for the NRL to serve Earl with a notice after being advised by ASADA.


Insofar as Dank's most recent AFL/NRL employment was with Essendon, together with the AFL's more rigorous registration system, this code would be the more likely to issue the notice.

Unlike Cronulla, where an internal report names two banned drugs taken by players, Essendon claim there are doubts about what substances were injected into their players on multiple occasions.

Fears that Dank might instigate legal action, protesting a denial of natural justice, are at odds with the Lance Armstrong case, according to legal sources.

Armstrong initially went to the US courts to block US Anti-Doping Agency action but a judge threw it out, insisting the cyclist first have his case heard by sport.

ASADA has been given enhanced powers by the federal Parliament as from August 1, compelling witnesses to come forward under threat of a $5100 per day fine for those who flout the order. If ASADA has evidence against Dank that is sufficiently weighty - even without an interview - to order an infraction notice, it is likely charges against AFL players are imminent, with NRL players to follow by year's end.

The AFL investigation was well advanced by the time the interviews began with NRL players, principally because ASADA did not have its additional powers then and had to rely upon AFL rules to compel players to come forward.

This resulted in a joint investigation between ASADA and the AFL, leading to an interim report erroneously branded an ASADA report, despite it being a narrative to satisfy the AFL's code of conduct and allowing it to charge four Essendon officials, including coach James Hird.

It is almost certainly the last joint report that will be done between a sport and an anti-doping authority. Such joint investigations, where questions asked of players lead them to clubs, in turn leading to the code, could produce the embarrassment of the sport examining itself. It also undermines ASADA's reputation as an authority at arm's length from a sport.

At an AFL grand final qualifying match in Melbourne last month, AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou lavished praise on his ASADA equivalent, Aurora Andruska. The head of an anti-doping authority accepting an invitation from a sport in the middle of an investigation has puzzled some veteran observers.

However, any possibility the incoming federal government will ask ASADA to go soft on AFL and NRL footballers is unlikely, with senior sports administrators reminding Coalition politicians of Australia's international obligations as a signatory to WADA.

The ''no significant fault'' excuse that footballers simply followed instructions from coaches/trainers to take banned drugs is unlikely to be successful, given the cases of young Olympic gold medallists banned in past years, despite using the same defence.

Punishment of Sharks officials under the NRL doping code, mirroring AFL action against Essendon, is a possibility. NRL boss Dave Smith will not rule this out, confirming his integrity unit has gathered evidence. As for infraction notices against players, former ASADA chief Richard Ings tweeted: ''It's not a case of if, it's a question of when and how many.''