New Dank roadblock for ASADA

EXCLUSIVE

Stephen Dank’s judgment day with anti-doping authorities has been stalled, after a seven-member expert panel that had been preparing to make the critical next call on the central figure in Australian sport’s most scandalous drugs case did not sit as planned.

In a development that appears to have limited the power of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority – even if temporarily – Fairfax Media has learnt that the agency’s Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel, which was a seven-member body as of late February, has been rendered dysfunctional with the departure of four members.

The panel is the independent decision-making arm of ASADA, and convenes regularly to make the most important assessments in anti-doping cases across all sports. Three members of the panel can assess any matter referred to it by ASADA, but the panel, which can be a body of up to nine, must have four members in total to be considered valid.

While the office of the Federal Minister for Sport, Peter Dutton, is defending the drastic turnover of the panel – telling Fairfax Media on Thursday that a government website listing three members is wrong, and that the panel is still able to function because a new, and as yet unpublicised, fourth member has been appointed – former ASADA chief executive Richard Ings described the situation as ‘‘embarrassing’’.

Ings said the mass exodus on the panel meant ASADA had hit an ‘‘insurmountable roadblock’’ at a crucial stage of its 14-month probe into Dank’s work at AFL and NRL clubs, including Essendon, the Gold Coast Suns and Cronulla.

Stephen Dank said that he and his legal team were ‘‘very angry with today’s events. It shows a complete lack of respect towards me and now this will only resolve us to accelerate all appropriate legal action.”

ASADA confirmed in writing to Fairfax Media on February 28 that the panel was chaired by Andrew McLachlan and had six other members: Diana Robinson, Hayden Opie, Michelle Gallen, Tracey Gaudry, Karen Harfield and Andrew Hughes.

But in the lead-up to Thursday, a day that was set to be the most critical yet in ASADA’s case against Dank – a matter with potentially enormous ramifications for the AFL and NRL – the panel was reduced to a body of three.

While the mass exodus was reflected on the ausgovboards website – four vacancies on the panel are still clearly highlighted – a spokesman for Dutton said the panel had in fact expanded to four.

While the spokesman would not say who the new fourth member was, and acknowledged that the ausgovboards website stated there were still four vacancies, he said: ‘‘The panel is constituted appropriately, has four members, and can consider matters when requested to by ASADA.’’

The opposition spokesman for sport, Bernie Ripoll, said: ‘‘To allow more than half the panel to leave without replacement is nothing short of extraordinary.’’

No longer on the panel are Gaudry, the vice-president of cycling’s international governing body the UCI; Gallen, a sports law and anti-doping expert; Harfield, a former detective with the national crime squad, and former Australian Federal Police member Hughes. The ausgovboard’s website, as it appeared on Thursday, confirmed that the panel was a shell of its former self with just three remaining members – McLachlan (chairman), Opie and Robinson.

Fairfax Media understands that as recently as last week, the panel was planning to meet in Canberra on Thursday with some of its now former members. It emerged subsequently that four panel members, whose terms on the panel were set to expire, had not had their positions renewed.

‘‘It is embarrassing that at such a critical stage of these ongoing matters, when the panel is required to make one of its most important decisions, that it does not have a fully functioning quorum to enable those important decisions to be made,’’ Ings said.

"The lack of a quorum for the [panel] effectively imposes an insurmountable roadblock for ASADA in progressing matters until such time as that vital panel has a quorum of members appointed by the Minister.’’

While informed figures in sport, politics and anti-doping are baffled, and in some cases concerned, by the state of affairs, some worried how the panel could be stripped so drastically before it is set to rule on a landmark case.

ASADA would not comment.

With Roy Masters

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