Dank roadshow: AFL needs to change, says controversial sport scientist

THE STEPHEN Dank roadshow rolled into Ballarat all wrapped up in the neanderthal and uncomfortably sexist ramblings of Mark “Jacko” Jackson.

It was an unusual forum to hear Dank talk for those wanting an insight into one of the most scandalous drugs probes in Australian sport.

Dank is a central figure in the Essendon and Cronulla supplements sagas and has largely kept quiet on the issue, vowing only to be judged in the Federal Court.

He spoke in the outdated sportsmen’s night format, the headline act following Jackson’s tales of conquests (mostly off the field) from his glory playing days and in a question-and-answer format with dual Carlton premiership player Peter Bosustow, who earlier reeled out well-worn one-liners about his mark and goal of the year in the 1981 season.

Dank’s tone and content was in stark contrast to that set for the luncheon at the Bunch of Grapes hotel on Friday.

Not that Dank made any massive revelations about the ongoing saga. Legally, he could not comment on Essendon specifics.

Dank maintained he had been in the right when questioned by a patron if he had treated Essendon players without using substances on the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority list. 

“There are no grey areas about pregnancy” to which the questioner concluded “it’s either on the list or not”.

He pleaded he had been “presented in an unfair playing field” and fighting solo up against the might of the AFL, NFL and ASADA.

Hardly anything new for the 60-or-so playing guests.

Where it got interesting was in his sports science views on how the AFL needed to change.

This was Dank’s running theme – how larger pay packets and the unsatiated club and league corporate partners demanded more athletically in endurance and skill from players. He fears sport science was impeded in catching up to ensure players could maximise their earning potential and recover, to full capacity, from injury.

Dank wants to open discussion on sport science technology and broaden rulings for what is allowed at clubs. Sounds valiant.

“The point that really should be stressed here ... an average AFL player runs the equivalent of a third of a marathon every afternoon on match day and they have to mark, handball, crash and tackle. Nowhere else in the world does any other sport demand this from an athlete,” Dank said.

“I don’t think (the AFL) appreciates what players withstand from a tissue point of view.

“It’s all right to evolve but you need to be immensely respectful of what a player is going through.”

He believes the game is evolving. It could spark a test case to challenge ASADA, like an athlete demanding to know why they were unable to have the best chance to perform to their best and have the best earning opportunities.

Why should an athlete, he says, not be able to access the same drugs and treatment average Joe can for, say, a knee injury, without the fear of getting a competitive edge over a rival office in the industry. It could help average Joe avoid lifelong pain and discomfort.

That was where Dank sank.

There are world-wide rules and governing bodies to help preserve the raw basis of sport – players achieving amazing physical feats with natural talent. Multi-billions of dollars poured into sport bring a darker side into all games as some chasing the elusive edge on their rivals go too far.

Sometimes injuries prematurely end careers. It is a harsh reality of sport.

There is no justification for an athlete turning to banned or questionable substances to maximise earning potential and only makes fuzzy where you draw the line to safely get ahead of a rival.

It is cheating.

Dank says keeping star athletes on the field is crucial to guarantee drawing in large crowds.

Yes, stars offer great pulling power.

But do fans really want them there on false pretences or potentially luring favourite players to exaggerate an injury to get a little extra

juice as a side effect?

We do not know how far Essendon and Dank pushed the boundaries with supplements. We may never truly know.

The basis of Dank’s talk had potential to foster discussion on positive medical and sports science advancement but that was the angle he was trying to push. It is how he wanted to be perceived.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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