Crikey speaks to the doctor who advised Essendon conditioning staff on the supplements at the centre of a scandal that could blow up the AFL — and potentially other sports.
A doctor has confirmed he examined the blood work of Essendon AFL players and advised controversial sports scientist Steve Dank on how to repair players’ flagging testosterone and growth hormone levels.
And Crikey understands the bomb dropped on the sport yesterday over the use of potentially illegal “peptide” supplements is being investigated by the Australian Crime Commission — which signed a memorandum of understanding with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority last year — and could spread beyond the AFL. It’s believed other elite sporting competitions are being probed over the use of the supplements.
The ACC told Crikey it “does not confirm who it is or is not investigating”. But one senior sports administrator source said there was “a lot happening in response to this.”
At a press conference yesterday, Essendon admitted players had used supplements and had asked the drug regulators and the AFL to investigate. Players reportedly signed waivers and were injected by substances by sports science staff in secret locations.
Peptides, while not illegal in and of themselves, have the potential to elevate growth hormones to levels banned under national and international sporting codes.
Dr Robin Willcourt, who runs the Epigenx Integrated Medicine practice at South Yarra’s Como Centre in Melbourne, told Crikey this morning Dank and his boss, Dean “the Weapon” Robinson, had came to see him last year about a proposed medical regime for Bombers stars.
“We talked with Steve and Dean about the use of peptides and other supplements, but what they did with that information I don’t know,” Willcourt said. A script was never written, and the duo went elsewhere.
Willcourt says the Bombers’ bloods made for uncomfortable reading.
“When you analyse a lot of these chaps you saw they’re really deficient in growth hormone levels … their testosterone levels are low due to the stress of the workload that they’re under,” he said.
He says Dank, since dismissed from Essendon, mentioned treatments that are “not acceptable and reasonable [to treat the symptoms] … if they were reasonable about it they’d be getting them testosterone and peptides.”
“That’s the body’s natural reaction to overstress and you can tell that players were just being worked beyond their capacity … I don’t know what they did with that information … Steve swore up and down that the players weren’t using peptides … I was totally torn looking at their results because I’m looking at these players thinking ‘man, you need help’. It was a very frustrating position to be in.
“The problem with that is that when you’re a footy player and you’re working your guts out and you get injured you just don’t repair properly. You just see the players getting more and more injured as time goes by.”
Willcourt says he thought a lot of Essendon players were taking bovine colostrum — a substance that, while not illegal, includes an agent called IGF-1, regarded as a banned substance by the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency. He says it’s possible Dank or the club had later secured peptides from another provider.
“Dank was also very interested in getting placental extracts and stuff like I said to him that I didn’t think they would do any good,” he said. Robinson, the subject of intense media interest last year after his hiring, is a “terrific fellow” and a “fantastic chap”. He has since been stood down.
A pharmacist at the adjacent Como Compounding Pharmacy, Nima Alavi, told Crikey today that Dank had visited 12 months ago and was “coming in proposing all sorts of crazy things. But we don’t really get involved in that sort of stuff.” Instead, he supplied the club with simple over-the-counter multivitamins. “They took forever to pay their account … I actually thought it was going to be quite lucrative but it sort of died really quickly,” he said.
Alavi says anything requiring a prescription never came over his desk. “There was talk of a few peptides … but as soon as talk of peptides came up, I said ‘we do peptides, we can make any peptide you like, but you need a prescription for it. And that’s where it ended. I presume they went elsewhere,” he said.
There are a plethora of different peptides freely available online from international providers without a prescription, Alavi says. They’re difficult to detect because unlike anabolic steroids they are naturally occurring substances.
Willcourt accuses the IOC and WADA of hypocrisy by maintaining overzealous testing standards. He gave the example of a leading global sprinter’s “massive upper body” and says a lax testing regime in their home country has enabled them to compete without being detected.
“Dick Pound has done no service by his witch hunting for every single peptide or anything that’s hiding under a chair,” Willcourt said. “The problem is that all athletes out there today are denied what any other person would be allowed to do and that is to be able to repair themselves properly with the right hormone levels when they’re in trouble and I think that’s just crazy.”
Essendon Football Club did not return calls this morning. Dank has previously said on the record that he does not comment to the media.