Under fire over the most significant drugs investigation in Australian sport’s history, the government has named veteran administrator Peter Fricker as a new member of the expert panel responsible for judging Stephen Dank.
While the office of Minister for Sport and Health, Peter Dutton, said it had not planned to unveil three additions to the anti-doping body until next week, the embarrassing revelation that a recent mass exodus prevented pressing cases from being addressed at a scheduled meeting this week forced an early announcement.
The independent review body for the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel, has before it the pressing matter of determining whether Dank’s practices at AFL and NRL clubs breached rules.
The panel needs at least four members to be valid. Fairfax Media revealed on Thursday, however, that there were four vacancies on the panel after the tenures of sport, law and anti-doping experts Tracey Gaudry, Andrew Hughes, Karen Harfield and Michelle Gallen were not renewed.
While Dutton’s office insisted that a new fourth member had been appointed, it initially refused to name the additional member and a government website clearly highlighted four vacancies on the panel.
More significantly, Fairfax Media established that matters the panel was to review at a meeting last week were not attended to. Dutton’s office provided no explanation for why the panel had not attended to scheduled business.
In the face of criticism for a clunky transition at a time when Australia’s anti-doping procedures have never been more scrutinised – former ASADA chief executive Richard Ings said it was embarrassing and a “roadblock” to ASADA’s investigation that could have easily been avoided - Dutton’s office did not name the new member who restored the validity of the panel until Friday night.
A written statement to Fairfax Media said that former Australian Institute of Sport director, Fricker, had joined the panel.
The statement said Fricker had been appointed on April 1 – the day after the tenures of four former panel members were allowed to expire. Dutton’s office said the information on the government website – which still states there are four vacancies on the panel - was outdated.
“Like many websites…[it is] updated periodically and does not reflect the most recent situation,” the statement from Dutton’s office said.
It is understood that, before the tenures of the now departed members expired, concern was lodged about the impact of losing four experts simultaneously at such a crucial time.
Ings has described how when he was boss of ASADA, it was not uncommon for the tenure of panel members to be urgently extended or renewed so the important group was not destabilised.
Dutton is the only figure authorised to approve panel appointments, and in this instance the government clearly favoured a mass refreshment over continuity.
While Fricker’s credentials are impeccable, insiders question the wisdom of introducing at least three new panel members at the climax of the case concerning Dank which has potentially enormous ramifications for the AFL, NRL and numerous footballers.
Dutton’s office did not respond to questions regarding its handling of the transition but said the appointment of two further additions to the panel were “due to be finalised in the next week”.
Those appointments will make the profoundly transformed panel, chaired by professor of pharmacy Andrew McLachlan, a body of six.
Dr Diana Robinson, a former Olympic and Commonwealth Games team medico who is currently overseas at a sports medicine symposium, and sports law expert Hayden Opie remain on the panel.
A highly regarded figure in Australian sport, Fricker was the director of the AIS between 2005-11. He was medical boss for Australian Olympic and Commonwealth games teams between 1986-2006.