Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Supplemental Discussion

*Thank you to @BenCuzzupe and @prestontsport
for advice and assistance on this blog post. 

At the dawn of season 2013, the AFL had a few scandals that needed sorting out. The TippettGate and Tanking affairs seemed like the most destructive events the League could ever possibly face.
Then came the ACC / ASADA bombshell that sent not only the AFL, but other codes as well, reeling and scrambling.


Terms of Reference
In handling the ACC report (and ASADA investigation) around 'drugs in sport', the AFL and its clubs (though primarily one) took action to quell the damage to the competition as a whole.
The use of selected English was used to deflect and downplay the real goings on and substances used. So we were subjected to terms such as 'supplements'.

But as the season rolled on, and investigations continued, a darker picture was uncovered. The 'supplements' were confirmed as Thymosin beta 4, GHRP-6, CJC-1295... all banned by WADA as performance enhancing drugs. Further, 'not for human use' chemicals such as AOD-9604 was also used.
These drugs are far from the supplements that you would find in your local Coles store.

The AFL acted swiftly in February, firstly by announcing an audit of all clubs, to determine what was being used across the league clubs.
“We’re putting all clubs on notice that they will have to advise the AFL of all drugs and substances they are providing to their players and the use of those substances will be subject to AFL approval,” AFL Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said.
“We will instruct AFL medical commissioners to meet all club doctors to review their practices and their supervision of treatments and report back to the AFL Commission.”
Along with the audit, the AFL began documenting and drafting rules and guidelines for medical staff to curb excessive intakes of substances and other protocols. Some rules were applied immediately, while others were under discussion and consideration.

The audit process has since been completed, with the AFL issuing this document on Oct 16, 2013. The key findings are interesting, and will warrant further discussion if the AFL deem fit to release further information. Paramount are these notes here:
The supplements survey also found that 12 clubs conducted programs with medium or high levels of supplement use and lacked "a single point of accountability". And there was also an inappropriate definition of supplements and the selection process of support personnel was flawed.
Of chief concern are the terms 'high level of supplement use' and 'lacked "a single point of accountability".'. These statements appear to mirror the goings on at Essendon, but without any additional information, they carry little meaning.
We, the football public, are left to ponder those terms.
 - Define "high level"? Is it more than 5 players? Or is it more about the frequency of use? Or are the supplements less of the Coles variety, and more of the Charter variety (line item 52 [PDF])?
 - What exactly does lacking accountability mean? Were club doctors involved? Records kept? Or is the accountability more in the murky end of supplements spectrum, where the human use certification needs had not been met?

In using such a broad term as supplements from day one, the AFL was always bound to confuse the general public. The audit enacted that day was always going to uncover 'supplement' use at clubs.
Teams have had sponsorship arrangements with supplement suppliers, such as Essendon who were sponsored by... sorry partners with [PDF]... Body Science in 2011, and Collingwood partnered with Musashi, and Hawthorn with Swisse, and...

We could go on and on.

[and we make no inference at all that these companies are involved in non-WADA approved supplements]

Using the term 'supplements' from the get go was an attempt to hose down the severity of the real drugs being used. It 'sanitised' what was taken (as found by the ACC report [PDF]) and reduced the damage to 'Brand AFL'.

And in the end, it only created a more confusing muddle down the track that many fell into.
Here are two public examples. 


Holmes a'Cornes
It didn't take long for the AFL's macro management of the drugs issue to be pounced on. The faux pas of calling the drugs used as 'supplements' and then finding 'supplements' at all clubs was "money for old rope" for some of the commentariat.


Former Player, Media Type.
First, we at the Institute expect a level of support for football people, from football people. Its exactly the sort of response that the 'us against them' mentality of club football breeds.

So it was no surprise that Graeme Cornes offered this, of which we have selected a few highlights in blue (and you can read the full text by clicking on the headline).

Wronged Bombers deserve an apology from the AFL
By Graham Cornes   The Advertiser   October 18, 2013   9:52PM 
WHAT a dilemma the AFL now has. After hitting Essendon with the harshest of all penalties, and an unprecedented disqualification from a finals series for its supplements program, it now finds that 11 other clubs had been doing something similar.
What is true is that the Bombers did supplements better and more professionally than everyone else.
They certainly invested a lot more time and money in its program. And contrary to some public opinion, Stephen Dank, the man driving Essendon's program, is not some sort of mad scientist. He just knew his stuff and was prepared to take it to the limits of what was prohibited and what was not. 
Well, then, there you go!
Professionalism and better implemented doping. Time and money thrown at the project. An 'expert' at the helm. Does this mean its OK?
Is Mr Cornes actually congratulating Essendon on the good organisation and professionalism of this drugs program?
The one using non-approved for human use chemicals and Mexican-sourced drugs that belonged to a different medical centre patient? Mr Taggert says it all, on our behalf.

And lets not forget that Essendon's own Switkowski Report said that "no one can yet be sure what happened at the club last year and we are still not fully aware of what took place"?

That must be a certain level of professionalism that not even former Telstra chair Dr Ziggy Switkowski is unaware of. And a level that possibly falls outside the legal grounds for employee health and welfare.
But there were other clubs as well, one in particular, which did not care if they stepped over that faint line of sporting propriety, as long as they weren't caught.
They weren't, and only Essendon, in the face of political interference and opportunism, rang the AFL and ASADA and said "come and investigate us, we may be doing something wrong".
Firstly, if Mr Cornes is aware of one more club that "did not care if they stepped over that faint line of sporting propriety, as long as they weren't caught", then he might expect a knock on the door from ... oh maybe the AFL investigators, or ASADA, or even the Australian Crime Commission.
Mr. Cornes... names and facts please, or its just rumour mongering.

Secondly, we disagree that "Essendon, in the face of political interference and opportunism, rang the AFL and ASADA and said "come and investigate us, we may be doing something wrong"."
We would argue that there is conjecture about the line that Essendon 'self-reported'.

And if you don't believe us, try the expert testimony of maybe... James Hird! (see items 10 through 14 [PDF]).
According to Mr Hird, Essendon were told to "come forward to the AFL and ask for an investigation" and the club was instructed that it "should go public about the uncertainty surrounding its supplement program in 2012".

This is a lot less 'self reported' and more 'reporting after being made aware of an impending storm'. The Hird affidavit doesn't match the existing Essendon account of the time... making us wonder who is credible.
Hopefully, this whole mess will have a positive outcome. The AFL will make significant changes to its Anti-Doping code, although I doubt it can take it far enough.
As a coach and a father of footballers, it has always worried me just how far players and their teams will go.
Nutritional and strength supplements have been used now for decades. How can you ever be sure what is in them?
Yes, indeed. The whole community of football should be concerned at how far footballers and clubs will go to find a winning edge. And this, Mr Cornes, is where you get to play a real role.
Not in defending a team that pushed its players over that edge and into the murky waters of PED's and non-approved drugs. But in railing against those teams and individuals that have sullied the image of the game.

This is where you should be helping the AFL in determining guidelines and rules around drugs and supplements, and not shrugging shoulders and saying "I doubt [the AFL] can take it far enough.".

Oh, yeah... and that last bit... about not knowing what is in the supplements. We can know... its called science. Testing supplements can tell you whats in them. Been happening for years.


There is one thing right with the Cornes article... and it is the last line.
Somebody needs to say sorry.
Yep... we are all waiting. Your move, Essendon.


Journalismo
While the above is from a former player now plying his trade in the media, the average media consumer could (should!) expect more from trained professional journalists.

Well... maybe, and maybe not.
The blue text below is from Ms Tracey Holmes, and we think it is a rather odd jump at shadows.
Why did Essendon alone take the fall?
By Tracey Holmes   Posted Fri 18 Oct 2013   1:18pm AEDT
With all of the heavyweights on a tour of Ireland with an actual Indigenous team, a story without fanfare made its way onto the AFL website. It stated:
    "12 clubs conducted programs with medium or high levels of supplement use and lacked a single point of accountability."
That's '12 clubs'. Not 'one' club. Not 'Essendon'. We are talking 66 per cent of the AFL competition.
Does that sound alarming to you? It should.
This fact and others make up part of "an AFL survey" which was:
     "... conducted following the release of the Australian Crime Commission's Drugs in Sport report - which also revealed that club documentation of player supplement use was 'inadequate'.
Sounds very much like Essendon's supplement program - with one enormous difference.
 The one 'enormous difference' Ms Holmes offers is...
Essendon was subjected to six months or more of front page headlines, current affairs stories and emotional talk back radio following a leak that the club was running a systemic doping program. There was talk of lifetime bans for some club personnel and the possibility that Essendon would be kicked out of the competition.

Yep, that's basically true. But it misses the real 'enormous difference' between Essendon and 11 other clubs.
None of the others are currently subject to an ASADA investigation, nor were they implicated in an Australian Crime Commission report into organised crime and its links to drugs in Australian sport.

And as we have pointed out earlier, there is quite a difference between what the AFL and Essendon termed 'supplements' and what is also a legal (as in not WADA banned) supplement.

Ms Holmes does go on to ask some valid questions, such as these in blue below, and which we have responded too...
How is it that 11 other clubs (assuming one of the 12 was Essendon) manage to go unreported, unquestioned and unanswerable? As far as we know, there may be absolutely no difference between Essendon's program and the other 11 teams.                   (bold text our emphasis)
As of today (12 Nov, almost 1 month after the AFL audit press release) there has indeed been no action against the 11 clubs. But this is still in its earliest stage, and there is much water to flow under this bridge yet.
How are the supplement programs at the other 11 clubs any different to Essendon's?
As before...define 'supplements'. What is known is what was used at Essendon. The other supplements may be similar or benign. Only the AFL audit team know that now.
There is much water to flow under this bridge yet.
Without the same level of scrutiny and investigation being applied to all clubs how can the AFL justify singling out Essendon?
Yes how can the AFL single out Essendon...? (How dare they!!) And how can the ACC and ASADA too also target Essendon only...?
Oh wait, there is a different scenario is happening at Essendon to what is known about the other clubs.
There is much water to flow under this bridge yet.
If "12 clubs conducted programs with medium or high levels of supplement use and lacked a single point of accountability", then why aren't 12 clubs being charged with bringing the game into disrepute because of lack of governance?
Again, one has been identified by Australia's peak crime body as having links to drugs via organised crime sources. At this stage, the 11 other have no criminally investigated link. You would think this point would be understood nine months after the release of the ACC report.
And equally, there could still be issues coming out of the audit that need investigation.
There is much water to flow under this bridge yet.
The AFL survey also found that players (no definitive number was given, so it could be a few or a lot) "from nine different clubs sourced supplements independently from clubs". This is what 'honest' players admitted to - how many more players did not honestly respond?
Firstly, it is of concern that players are going outside the clubs for further 'supplements', and hence why ASADA (and WADA) put the onus on players to know what is, or is not, legal before ingestion/injection. It is in the interests of the AFLPA and clubs to ensure players are reminded of this before steps are taken.

Secondly... the ASADA investigation (or potentially the courts) should define who are the 'honest players' in all of this.
If so many players are sourcing supplements, surely it would be better for it to be controlled by the clubs than to have hundreds of players all approaching it differently and without effective supervision?
If it is better for the clubs to control supplement programs, then what on earth has this whole season-long drama been about? 
Again, players have the ultimate responsibility to know what they are taking. Allowing the club to control supplement intake could lead to, oh we don't know, some sort of a scenario where...
... players are asked to sign waiver forms by a 'sports scientist', then receive multiple injections of drugs that they have no idea of, while the real medico's in the room complain about the program before being shunted out of frame. 
WAIT A MINUTE...!


As a point in time opinion piece, it fulfilled a need by The Drum for content, and for Ms Holmes to vent some frustrations while still being a standard bearer for the "Essendon was wronged" crowd. It contained not one singe mention of the ACC report, ASADA, or any of the drugs involved (TA-65, AOD9604, Thymosin Beta 4 etc).

The article also calls for action against other clubs while very little information about the 'supplements' at the other clubs are known, nor the use regimes, the number of players involved, nor even if it was a systematic, club-wide approach as appears to be the case at Essendon.
Ms Holmes' use of "As far as we know" is quite telling in this piece. As mentioned many times above:
There is much water to flow under this bridge yet.  
As far as we know... 
the Earth may well have been invaded by aliens who had made mis-calculation of scale. 

Facetious, yes - understood.
...But you see the point right?

...do you think the Donialists do?


And "As far as we know" (reading from her tweets), Ms Holmes is a fan of awaiting evidence and not responding to hearsay.


And we also find it odd* that the commentariat have no issue in raising the defensive barricades when it comes to Essendon, yet in both cases above, there was no mention of the (named) Suns and Demons players. These players were also in contact with Mr Dank and face infractions as well.

*</sarcasm font> Not odd at all!

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