Scientist set to sue Demetriou

Stephen Dank is preparing to take the AFL’s chief executive, Andrew Demetriou, to the Supreme Court in a defamation case expected to be lodged by the sports scientist’s legal team within a month.
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”He is on our list of those to bring an action against,” one of Dank’s lawyers told Fairfax Media on Friday. ”We propose to bring a defamation action against Andrew Demetriou on the grounds of him denigrating Mr Dank, and accusing him of all sorts of things he didn’t do. That will definitely be going ahead.”

The lawyer acting for Dank, who asked not to be named, said his client was also considering launching Federal Court proceedings against the Essendon Football Club for a breach of trade practices laws. The basis of that claim would centre on the written contract Dank had with the Bombers. The member of Dank’s legal team said there was an agreement between his client and the club that his contract would be reviewed after a year – and possibly extended by another year – but he was never given such an opportunity.

”We don’t want to bring any case we’re not certain of winning,” the lawyer acting for Dank said. ”I’m not as sure about the breach-of-contract case against Essendon as I am about the other guy, Demetriou. But we’ll make up our mind about the contract case with Essendon in the next two weeks.

”The case with Essendon is not as clear cut. His contract’s in writing and it does refer to a review, and he didn’t get a review, he just got the sack.”

An AFL spokesman would not comment when contacted on Friday about Dank’s plan to sue Demetriou.

The proposed legal action against Essendon shapes to worsen the messy fallout of the club’s supplements program that Dank masterminded and oversaw between 2011 and 2012, which is now under investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.

Dank has an array of written evidence that Essendon – and specifically coach James Hird – was delighted with the scientist’s work early last year before the team ultimately capitulated after a confounding string of soft-tissue injuries crippled the side. The Bombers won eight of their first nine matches in 2012 but lost 10 of their remaining 13.

Dank was sacked before the end of the season, after about nine months’ work at Essendon, apparently due to a dispute over unauthorised expenses. It has been estimated the club’s budget for supplements was exceeded by about $100,000.

Dank’s grievance with Demetriou is understood to centre on comments made by the AFL chief a fortnight ago when he lamented the ”potential injurious nature” of the substances given to Bomber players.

Responding to the revelations in a Fairfax Media report where Dank listed what he had prescribed at Essendon, Demetriou also said: ”I’m horrified as a parent that – if true – young men were being injected with these substances.

”It’s a terribly disturbing situation.”

Dank maintains his program at Essendon complied with World Anti-Doping Agency rules, and Hird has said repeatedly that he trusted his advice that everything players received in the program – conducted largely in secret – was above board.

Dank’s lawyers have launched claims of more than $10 million against various media outlets, alleging he has been falsely accused of selling illegal drugs to sportspeople.

Dealing with Dank

Parts of the puzzle? (clockwise from above): Stephen Dank, Andrew Demetriou, Neil Craig, Cameron Schwab, Gillon McLachlan and Jack Trengove.The AFL’s second most powerful official is not known for flashes of anger. But when a delegation of Melbourne officials told Gillon McLachlan during a confidential meeting in late February that the club’s doctor had been communicating with sports scientist Stephen Dank, the usually composed McLachlan reacted testily: ”It’s not still going on is it?”
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During the past week, the question of what role Dank played at the Demons has left the struggling club accused of a cover-up.

The Demons now face the prospect of being sanctioned by the AFL and one of its senior players being investigated by doping authorities. But was there a club-wide cover-up or attempt to mislead the league by several of its officials? Or does the club’s predicament flow more from a doctor’s serious blunder and how that has played into a rolling scandal?

One of the few certainties in the Dank affair is that things are mostly uncertain. The narrative remains short on hard, publicly verifiable evidence and is forming like a tricky jigsaw puzzle, which is far from complete.

On February 5, McLachlan called Melbourne CEO Cameron Schwab to inquire about rumours Dank was hanging around the club. The same day, Essendon held a short press conference to detail its concerns about the supplement program Dank had previously implemented at the Bombers.

Schwab told McLachlan he’d never heard of Dank but later called McLachlan back and told him – according to notes retained by Schwab – that Demons doctor Dan Bates had ”communications” with Dank and the club had considered employing him. McLachlan advised Schwab to immediately jettison the sports scientist.

Two days later, it became clear why. The federal government released the results of a year-long inquiry into what it described as widespread doping in sport.

While naming no names and providing no hard evidence, the report by the all-powerful Australian Crime Commission deals extensively with the work of Dank.

Three weeks later, on February 25, a Demons delegation met McLachlan and two other senior AFL officials. Melbourne was represented by Schwab, president Don McLardy, coach Mark Neeld and senior managers Neil Craig and Josh Mahoney.

The club’s internal file notes of the meeting detail McLachlan’s question about whether Dank was still dealing with Bates and also the club’s response that the association had ended on February 5 but that, before then, the pair had been communicating.

Schwab’s handwritten notes also state the Melbourne officials were told that the AFL planned to interview Bates (the notes read: ”Dan Bates – conversation with AFL investigators”) and that the AFL knew far more about Dank than it could let on.

A confidential AFL record of the meeting shows that the league documented admissions from the Demons’ delegation that its players had been injected with supplements at an external location but that this ”off-site injecting has stopped”.

It is not clear whether Dank’s association with this injecting program was mentioned; if it was, the full details of Dank’s association with Bates – if they were known to any of the Melbourne officials present- were not conveyed to the AFL at this meeting.

But Melbourne did reveal that one its directors, David Thurin, was conducting a review for the club’s board into the use of ”non-prescription medication … qualifications of staff [and] procedures”.

The meeting finished cordially. Melbourne’s next dealing with the AFL a few weeks later would be less so.

Meanwhile, Thurin, a former obstetrician who married into the billionaire Gandel clan and is described by colleagues as ”meticulous”, ramped up his inquiries. First on his list was Bates. The doctor said that before February 5, he’d had numerous dealings with Dank, as the sports scientist had repeatedly impressed upon the doctor his knowledge and employability.

Bates said that, after discussions with Dank and doing some of his own research, he had sent players to be injected with vitamins B and C and anti-oxidant Glutathione (substances all approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency).

Bates told Thurin he wanted the injections to take place at a health centre he was familiar with, but that Dank convinced him he could get a cheaper price at a clinic in Melbourne’s north. When the players arrived at the Gladstone Park Medical Clinic to be injected by a registered nurse, Dank was waiting in the centre’s foyer.

In late 2012 or early 2013, Dank also floated with Bates the prospect of Dank’s favoured supplier, chemist Nima Alavi, sponsoring the Demons, and discussed two longer-term projects; the first involved regulating players’ testosterone levels and the second improving their resistance to colds and flu.

Dank was told the club might be interested in adopting these programs if certain conditions were met. Dank never got a chance to respond in detail.

On February 5, Bates sent Dank a text telling him the pair could no longer communicate. While Bates had held out the possibility of paid work, Dank was never given a cent.

Thurin’s final report to his fellow Melbourne directors was presented on March 19 and contained a full-page devoted to Dank. ”It was comprehensive,” says one person who has read it.

But what no one on the board knew was that it was also missing a crucial piece of information. The same piece of information was also missing from the list of supplements the club had earlier provided the AFL. In withholding this information from Thurin, Bates had created a time bomb.

It exploded 10 days ago, when the ABC’s 7.30 program broadcast text messages between Bates and Dank, who had been busy leaking his phone communications to media outlets that he perceived as friendly (including Fairfax Media).

The 7.30 program aired texts that referenced six controversial supplements, none of which were vitamins or anti-oxidants.

”Melbourne must have breathed a sigh of relief that its supplements program had gone undetected … until now,” 7.30 reported.

To further this claim, the program referred to a short public statement about Dank made by the Demons on February 5, which focused on the fact that Dank’s efforts to be employed had failed and that he had no direct involvement in the treatment or training of its players.

The claims on the program infuriated AFL boss Andrew Demetriou, who immediately issued a statement saying the AFL was ”urgently seeking a further explanation from Melbourne Football Club about the veracity of the claims [on 7.30] and how they can be reconciled with previous statements from the club”.

Melbourne was also shocked. That same night, as rain fell outside, senior Demons officials assembled at the club’s headquarters. It wasn’t all bad: the Demons officials quickly confirmed that five of the six supplements named in the texts had never been used on players.

The story of the sixth supplement was different. After speaking with Dank in December 2012, Bates had arranged for co-captain Jack Trengove to have a foot injury treated with a single tube of cream containing anti-obesity drug AOD9604, to be supplied by Dank’s favoured chemist.

Bates had failed to tell Thurin about this. And while he had spoken to Thurin about his texts, calls and emails with Dank, he hadn’t relayed the full details of these communications.

The next morning was an ugly one for the club. Demetriou said in a radio interview that Melbourne would be in breach of league rules if the club had lied to his officials about Dank.

”If there was an association [between Dank and Bates], regardless of whether there has been an employment agreement, I think that would have been relevant to our briefings,” said Demetriou. ”This issue of ethics and trust in our code … is something that you can’t play ping-pong with.”

The comments were seized upon in the media and the cover-up drums began beating hard.

A senior official at the club agrees that Bates’ conduct is serious, but says that Demons officials are furious that the AFL has not publicly acknowledged that in February the club did pass on details to McLachlan about Dank’s links to Bates and Thurin’s planned review.

Club insiders say that the AFL never requested a copy of this review and did not send an investigator to interview Bates until the day after 7.30 aired. That same day, Bates stood down from the club.

Says the senior official: ”We are a football club, not an investigation agency. The AFL and the government have all the powers to do in-depth investigations and they keep saying that they know more than everybody else. To say that the club as a whole tried to cover anything up or mislead the AFL is a joke.”

The AFL’s private view is that, given the seriousness of the issues involved, Melbourne should have passed every detail on to the league as soon as they came to light, including the information about Dank discovered by Thurin.

There are also questions about whether Craig or any other Demons officials did not disclose all that they knew about Dank at the February 25 meeting with McLachlan or in the subsequent weeks.

Whether the club will face sanctions is an open question. The Demons’ most clear and present danger is the move this week by WADA to declare anti-obesity drug AOD9604 a banned substance.

This does not mean Trengove or the Essendon players who took it will be charged, as any such prosecution would face serious legal hurdles.

But for the players it increases the stomach-churning uncertainty that has become the hallmark of the entire doping scandal.

Replace the sin bin with a swearing jar

A fortnight after Adam Scott won the US Masters, amateur lip readers around the country are still in thrall over what the Australian golfer bellowed when he nailed a putt to put him on track to win the tournament.
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Be it his patriotic ”Come on, Aussie” or merely an excitable ”Yabbadabbadooo!”, it’s a pity footballers don’t leave us with the same sense of mystery when the cameras pull in tight to catch their every emotion at key moments.

Every weekend, without fail, some hunk or other will fumble the ball, miss a goal, get the rough end of the ref’s whistle or generally stuff up, and, sure enough, the camera will zoom in to capture the agony only to cop an unmistakable spit-laden silent expletive.

You don’t need to be a professional lip reader, or even deaf, for that matter, to figure out what has just been said. The experts in the commentary box might drily note that player X has just ”expressed his frustration”. But you and I fancy we know a little better.

Now, I like to drop a good F bomb as much as the next person. There’s something about the release of tension a good cuss allows when you just need to get something off your chest.

You don’t need to have sat alongside me in the car to know my standard retort when a traffic light teases and then taunts me. But the presence of a three-year-old behind me has seen me convert to the more sober ”crumbs”.

Years ago, I worked in an office where one of the administration staff who was deaf tipped me off to the issue of lip-reading footy players. I remember asking her once what she did on the weekend and she told me she’d watched the footy. We started talking about the game. After a quick analysis, she started giggling. When I asked why, she said, because they all swear so much. I asked her how she knew. I lip read them, she said. And sure enough, ever since, I’ve been taken by the incessant F-bombing of our footy players.

Score a try? Nail a goal? You effing beauty! F. Drop the ball? F. Dud call from the ref? F. It’s the standard emotion for good and bad.

Of late it’s become incessant with ever closer camera angles and now, heaven forbid, microphones on the field trailing players back to their marks. Swearing will always be a part of sport. And particularly, Australian sport. Let’s be frank. We are world champion cussers.

But with sports forever trying to come up with a way to improve their image, I suspect there’s a terrific marketing opportunity going to waste here for all the winter sports that dominate our TV. I’ve never understood why none of the footy codes has embraced a charity swear jar. With the countless replays of tries, king hits, goals and frustrations, the silent F bombs get replayed repeatedly.

And there’s an awful lot of footy fans – professional lip readers and amateurs – who know exactly what is being said. Often with a few blushing kids sitting alongside them on the living-room couch. So every time a player gets caught mouthing the unmistakable, why don’t footy administrators, or TV footy shows, encourage the player to make a donation to a charity? Perhaps a charity for the deaf. After all, they’re the ones who have known exactly what Scott said when he nailed that putt.

If a swear jar is good enough for the kids at home, it’s hard to see why our highly paid sports people can’t set a slightly better example on a field where, frankly, nobody expects them to stop swearing. It’s all part of the passion, after all.

But at least when they’re caught in a super slow-mo replay mouthing a toothless F bomb, we can laugh at ourselves and acknowledge that it’s perhaps not the most gentlemanly thing to do, especially when an awful lot of people know exactly what they’re saying.

A dollar – or 10, or a few hundred – in the swear jar for deaf kids would be the perfect response. Either that, or convert them all to saying crumbs.

Michael Evans is a Herald journalist.

Essendon finds bill for banned drug

Essendon Football Club has discovered in its records an invoice for the banned performance-enhancing supplement Hexarelin.
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Fairfax Media can also reveal that an elite Australian athlete managed by one of the club’s top officials received vitamin injections at the same clinic used by the Bombers and its sports scientist, Steven Dank.

In other revelations about the Essendon and Melbourne football clubs, it can be reported that:

•Mr Dank’s lawyers have signalled they plan to sue AFL chief   Andrew Demetriou for defamation.  They are also examining whether they can sue the Bombers over the way they sacked Mr Dank last September.

•Confidential documents show  the Demons told league officials in February that their club doctor, Dan Bates, had “communications” with Mr Dank and that players had been given vitamin injections at an external  clinic.

•Dr Bates failed to disclose in an internal club review  in March that he had asked co-captain Jack Trengove to use a cream containing an anti-obesity drug   banned by doping authorities this week.

The failure by anyone at Essendon to raise the alarm over  the Hexaralin invoice  is one of several  internal club failings that exposed Bombers players to a supplement program that included potentially banned or harmful drugs.

The governance failure extended to senior staff at the club giving  uncritical support for Mr Dank’s methods. These same staff have since  disowned Mr Dank and described his practices as “shocking”.

Essendon senior football official  Danny Corcoran, the former head of Athletics Australia, demonstrated his endorsement of Mr Dank’s methods by sending  an elite Australian athlete who he manages  to a health clinic opposite the club to receive  vitamin injections.  Mr Dank never injected the athlete, who is an Olympic hopeful and was ill at the time.

The same Windy Hill clinic, run by Dr Paul Spano, was used by Mr Dank to administer vitamins intravenously to Essendon  players.

On Friday, Mr Dank admitted giving Cronulla Sharks rugby league player Jon Mannah supplements, but said he never compromised the health of the front-rower, who died in January following a relapse of his Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

A leaked report on  Cronulla’s supplement program, which Mr Dank ran in 2011 while employed by the Sharks,  raised concerns of a potential causal link to Mannah’s fatal cancer.

The use of vitamins by athletes and football players is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency unless the dosages exceed a certain amount. But the bombers were also given injections by Mr Dank of anti-obesity drug AOD-9604, which WADA  banned on Tuesday. The use of this drug may yet lead to players or the club facing doping sanctions, although any such prosecution by doping authorities is  likely to face legal challenges.

The Hexarelin invoice discovered by the Bombers was sent to the club by Mr Dank’s business associate, South Yarra chemist Nima Alavi. The invoice is not proof that anyone at the club took the drug, which stimulates the production of human growth hormone and which was banned by WADA in 2004.

The existence of the invoice is further complicated by the fact that Mr Dank was separately treating private patients while employed by the Bombers and using Mr Alavi to supply both the club and his private business.

Mr Dank has stressed that he never used Hexarelin on any players at Essendon, although he has said he has used the drug on up to six club  officials, including coach James Hird. Privately,  Hird has strongly denied he knowingly took Hexarelin. It is also unclear whether Essendon actually paid for the Hexarelin listed on the invoice.

But the appearance of the invoice – given it lists a banned drug – during the 2012 season should have  alerted officials to the dangers of Mr Dank’s program.

Mr Dank told the Australian Crime Commission in sworn testimony last year that he had used Hexarelin on Essendon’s senior staff, though he has refused to confirm this with  ASADA. Mr Dank is refusing to co-operate with ASADA.

An Essendon  spokesman said: ‘‘The club will not make any comment due to the ongoing investigation of ASADA and the AFL, as well as the club’s internal governance review.’’

In developments related to  Melbourne Football Club, confidential Demons and AFL documents reveal that at a  meeting between the league and the club on February 25, Melbourne officials disclosed that  Dr Bates had been communicating with Mr Dank before the doping scandal erupted on February 5.

Demons officials also told the league in February that some players had been given vitamin injections off-site and that club director David Thurin was inquiring  into the club’s medical program. The inquiry was completed on March 19 and devoted a full page to Mr Dank’s interactions with Dr Bates.

Demons insiders say the February disclosures show the club did not set out to mislead the AFL, as has been widely reported. But the insiders acknowledge that Dr Bates did not disclose to the Thurin review that after he had discussions with Mr Dank last December he   told co-captain  Trengove to apply a cream to his foot injury. The cream contained the anti-obesity drug, AOD9604.

The AFL is furious that it only recently learnt that this drug was used and officials also suspect that Melbourne staff outside of Dr Bates may not have been forthcoming with the league about Mr Dank’s activities.

With ADRIAN PROSZENKO, SAMANTHA LANE

Jobe joins Lambton to put fun back in football

FORMER Jets captain Jobe Wheelhouse hopes to start enjoying his football again after signing with Northern NSW State League new boys Lambton Jaffas on Friday.
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The 27-year-old midfielder has been without a club since requesting a release and being paid out by the Jets in February after declaring ‘‘my heart’s not here any more’’.

Contract negotiations with the Jets had broken down and, despite approaches from Melbourne Heart and Central Coast Mariners, he opted to take a break.

He was poised to resurrect his A-League career with two-time champions Brisbane Roar, but when that offer was withdrawn last week, Wheelhouse opted to join his younger brother, Abe, at the Jaffas.

‘‘I will never shut the door on an A-League career or overseas for that matter, but I think it is the right time to take a step back,’’ Wheelhouse told the Herald.

‘‘If another door opens up, it does. If not, I am pretty happy with what I’ve achieved.

‘‘I had an opportunity to go and play alongside Abe and get a bit of enjoyment back in my game.

‘‘It has been three months now. With a few things falling through, the next best thing would be to get back on the horse, have a kick.

‘‘The guys at Lambton have been very welcoming. I’m looking to provide them with a bit of experience and try to keep my brother in line.

‘‘They have agreed to try and help me with my football school as well. We are all on the same page, which is good.’’

Wheelhouse has been a professional footballer since he returned from the Australian Institute of Sport as a 17-year-old to play for Newcastle United in the old national soccer league.

He was a foundation player for the Jets and made 106 A-League appearances, the last 31 as the club’s first home-grown skipper.

After turning down previous approaches he had been excited about the chance to move to Brisbane and a fresh start.

‘‘I am obviously disappointed that they reneged on the deal, but there are a lot of people worse off than me in life.’’

Wheelhouse starts training with the Jaffas next week but is not expected to make his debut until the round-eight clash against Weston at Edden Oval.

‘‘I have been doing bits and pieces, but I don’t think my body is ready for a game yet,’’ he said. ‘‘I will start training next week and have a wedding to attend in Fiji in a couple of weeks as well.’’

Not surprisingly, Jaffas coach Dave Tanchevski was delighted to have the ex-Jets skipper on board.

The Jaffas won the First Division minor and major premierships last year to earn promotion for the first time in club history and have opened their campaign with two losses.

‘‘There were a lot of disappointed people when he left the Jets and hopefully they come and watch him,’’ Tanchevski said.

‘‘He fits into our culture and is coming here for the right reasons.

‘‘We told him we had spent our budget but would give him what we can.’’

Tanchevski said the Jaffas would not stand in the playmaker’s way if an opportunity arose for him to return to the professional ranks.

Jobe Wheelhouse. Picture: Getty Images