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 learned that the agency’s Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel, which was a seven-member body as of late February, was effectively rendered dysfunctional by the recent departure of four former members.
The ADRVP is the independent decision making arm of ASADA that convenes regularly to make the most important assessments in anti-doping cases across all sports.
Three members of the ADRVP can assess any matter referred to it by the ASADA, but the expert panel, which can be a body of up to nine, must have four members in total to be considered valid.
Dank was furious following ASADA’s latest embarrassment. ‘‘Myself and my legal team are 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.’’
Dank and his team have actions pending against ASADA, the AFL, NRL and numerous media outlets for a myriad of claims including wrongful dismissal, loss of income and defamation.
He claims to have ever increasing support from the medical and sports science community for his use of supplements, yet remains bitter about his banishment from the football codes, particularly rugby league.While the office of the Federal Minister for Sport, Peter Dutton, is defending the drastic turnover of the ADRVP – telling Fairfax Media on Thursday a government website listing three members was wrong, and the panel was still able to function because a new, and as yet unpublicised, fourth member had been appointed – former ASADA CEO Richard Ings described the situation as “embarrassing”.
Ings said the mass turnover at the ADRVP meant ASADA had hit an “insurmountable roadblock” at a crucial stage of what is now a 14-month probe into Dank’s work at AFL and NRL clubs including Essendon, the Gold Coast Suns and Cronulla.
ASADA confirmed in writing to Fairfax Media on February 28 that the ADRVP was chaired by professor Andrew McLachlan and had six other expert members: Diana Robinson, Hayden Opie, Michelle Gallen, Tracey Gaudry, Karen Harfield and Andrew Hughes. But in the lead-up to the 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 suddenly reduced to a body of three.
While the mass exodus was reflected on the ausgovboards website – four vacancies on the ADRVP were clearly highlighted on the site at the time of publication - a spokesman from Minister Dutton’s office said the panel had in fact expanded again to four. While the spokesman would not say who the new fourth member was, and acknowledged the ausgovboards website stated there were still four vacancies on the ADRVP, he stated: “The panel is constituted appropriately, has four members, and can consider matters when requested to by ASADA.”
Meanwhile, Shadow Minister for Sport Bernie Ripoll issued a statement that said: “to allow more than half the panel to leave without replacement is nothing short of extraordinary”.
No longer on the ADRVP 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 the ADRVP was a shell of its former self with just three remaining members – chair McLachlan, Opie and Robinson - due to the lapsed membership of four others.
Fairfax Media understands that as recently as last week, the ADRVP was planning to meet in Canberra with some of its now former members on Thursday, April 10. It emerged subsequently that four panel members, whose terms on the ADRVP were set to expire, had not had their positions renewed.
Fairfax Media understands that the imminent expiry of panel members’ terms was well-known by insiders, and that there had been some moves towards extending memberships so that the ADRVP was not adversely affected at such a crucial time.
“It is embarrassing that at such a critical stage of these ongoing matters, when the Anti-Doping Rule Violation 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,” ex-ASADA boss Ings told Fairfax Media.
“The lack of a quorum for the Anti-Doping Rule Violation 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 (Peter Dutton).”
While informed figures in sport, politics and anti-doping were baffled and in some cases gravely concerned by the state of affairs – some worried about how the ADRVP could be stripped so drastically of experts before it set to rule on a landmark case - ASADA would not comment.