Dr Peter Harcourt, Essendon Supplements Saga, AFL, ASADA

CANCER!!! Oh, and negative targeted drug tests.

As predicted more and more information is beginning to spill out regarding the Essendon supplements saga, much of it posing serious questions about the AFL’s role from before it actually became a ‘saga’, and also Andrew Demetriou’s potential role in the “self reporting” of Essendon.

Yesterday via a second directions hearing in the court case regarding the legality or otherwise of the AFL/ASADA joint investigation into Essendon came a reference to a video of a presentation the AFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Peter Harcourt, had given to a FIFA conference in Zurich, Switzerland in November 2013.

James Hird’s legal team brought it to the attention of the court, because it adds to what appears a very strong case that the investigation in fact was a joint one, despite ASADA’s most recent claims.  The appropriate part of the video referenced had Dr Harcourt talking about the real reason for the ‘joint’ investigation saying –

“The real reason was that under individual contracts, all players are contracted to the league as opposed to the clubs.
“It’s quite effective, because it gave enormous power to ASADA to look at mobile phones, digital records, files and coerce interviews — because it is allowed under the contract of the players to the league”.

That was interesting and no doubt extremely useful for Essendon and Hird’s case, but there was much more information to come from this presentation.


The biggest revelation from Dr Harcourt was that Essendon players had been ‘target tested’ by ASADA at the request of the AFL in 2012 after the AFL had “caught wind” of something going on at Essendon during that season.  The samples arising from the target tests had been sent to a lab in Germany as it has a world leading test to detect ‘peptide’ use.  According to Dr Harcourt “nothing came out of it”, or in other words, these targeted tests run specifically for peptides all came back negative.

Wait, what?

There’s so many questions that arise from that single paragraph it’s difficult to know where to begin.  First, the AFL knew during the 2012 season that Essendon were running a supplements program worrying enough to target test them?  This despite Andrew Demetriou repeatedly denying knowledge of Essendon’s program prior to them self reporting, and any knowledge of which club the Australian Crime Commission was referring to in its report that he was briefed on in late January 2013?

We discussed Demetriou’s role in the “self report” and the mess it left behind previously.

Remember Demetriou’s constant denials that he ‘tipped off’ David Evans that Essendon were the team that the ACC were investigating thus forcing the club to “self report”, with his reasoning that he never knew which club was being investigated?
Presumably that’s now going to be a difficult stance to maintain, or otherwise raises serious questions about the governance of the AFL during the same period they were castigating Essendon over its own governance.  If I were Mr Demetriou, I’d be as far from Melbourne as a plane could take me right now.

Second, the AFL knew enough to target test the players and have their samples sent to a German lab specifically to have them tested for peptides, yet seemingly didn’t think that warning the club and/or the players or at least having a discussion with them to clarify their program might be a good idea?
Here’s an interesting poser, if the players are contracted directly to the AFL as Dr Harcourt asserts, and the AFL rightly or wrongly suspected there was a potentially harmful supplements program being undertaken on the players yet did little to stop or curtail it – who exactly is responsible for the duty of care to those players wellbeing that we’ve heard so much about?

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the AFL had ASADA target test the Essendon players presumably while the supplements program was in full swing, had ASADA send the samples to the most advanced peptide testing lab in the world, and all the tests came back negative?
That surely strengthens Essendon and the players contention that no illegal substances were taken (though of course doesn’t dismiss any other evidence), while asking yet more questions of the AFL.  Like for example, out of all the information disclosed and all the leaks so damaging to the players, club and its coach, did they not think the public might be interested in that fact?
This wasn’t just the players randomly not getting tested at the right times and therefore getting lucky, this was target testing undertaken specifically to test for the exact breaches ASADA allege may have occurred, and in Dr Harcourt’s words “nothing came of it”.

I keep forgetting that seemingly only damaging information to Essendon and its coach was leaked during the investigation; I wonder why that was?

Also in the media goldmine of a presentation (you seriously have to ask yourself what in the hell Dr Harcourt was thinking, to borrow a phrase he used in his speech) was the revelation that the AFL were at the time setting up 5 year health monitoring on the players to track any potential health issues such as hormonal issues or cancers from the ‘probable’ PED use.

This was newsworthy if only for his specific use of the term ‘cancers’, after all the health monitoring of the players has been publicly reported numerous times.  It also raised some privacy issues which I assume the good doctor is currently being asked.  Certainly health risks to players are nothing to be taken lightly, though they have been discussed at great lengths previously so as far as ‘newsworthy’ items to come out of this presentation this nugget was a fair way down the list.


There was also a revelation that presumably no one has yet had time to address, that being that the AFL had to ‘retire‘ 3 players due to illicit drug addiction.

Wow.  Presuming there are some more privacy issues there, among several other issues.  I wonder how that conversation with the players in question went?


So out of all that, what did The Age choose to run as their banner headline and main story on the revelations?  Need you even ask at this point.


The piece by Jon Pierik, the Age journo who has seemingly picked up the tabloid Essendon desk in Caroline Wilson’s absence, focused firmly on Dr Harcourt’s mention of health monitoring moving forward and used hearsay like “Rival clubs had suspicions of Essendon’s supplements program” and “the Blues were suspicious of the rapid physical development of some Bomber players” rather than focusing on the explosive (to borrow a popular Age phrase) goldmine of factual information Dr Harcourt released.
Pierik even rehashed all of Dr Harcourt’s emotive phrases as quotes, yet seemingly didn’t think to question the role of a Doctor publicly releasing specific potential health issues of 35 players.

This was clickbait of the worst kind, which is in keeping with much of The Age’s coverage of the saga thus far.  The journalist had two distinct choices, either go the tabloid route and further play the moral outrage card, or focus on what were actual relevant and extremely telling facts released in the same presentation.

In making his choice Pierik completely missed the actual story that is continuing to break, while the Herald Sun and The Australian both got it.  I’m sure The Age got their short term clicks though, and gave the shouters something else to shout about.
Somehow the ‘tabloid’ Melbourne paper get the story while still discussing the ‘cancer’ revelations, yet the former (no coincidence) broadsheet couldn’t manage to control themselves.


There are many more twists and turns to come in this story, but I don’t imagine Dr Peter Harcourt is a popular man with pretty much anyone involved in the saga on any side at this point.  Serious questions need to be asked as to why the league’s Chief Medical Officer would even be discussing possible findings of what was still an open investigation at that time, and how several of his presumptions could be viewed as anything other than prejudicial.

We await with interest any questions soon to be asked AFL Integrity Officer Brett Clothier, who co-authored a paper on the same topic with Dr Harcourt earlier this year.


20 thoughts on “CANCER!!! Oh, and negative targeted drug tests.”

  1. Keep up the good work.

    A small point on Demetriou. He didn’t deny knowing the club, clearly he did as he didn’t need to ring around to every club. He claimed he couldn’t have tipped off Essendon using privileged ACC intelligence as they didn’t tell him. He wasn’t lying, he was just speaking illogical nonsense that was actively defended by the accredited media stooges rather than questioned as it should have been. As described here… http://scarcesense.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/patrick-smith-incompetent-or-liar/

  2. Another comment made by Dr Harcourt was that some of the drugs were so new they were ahead of the testers, which drugs were they? Every drug on the consent form had been around for quite a while and there was sufficient data available to make an assessment of it’s purpose either way. AOD has been around a long time, and TB4 is banned, specifically what were these cutting-edge drugs that were so new the agencies couldn’t test for? And he stated performance enhancing drugs were “probably” used, is he talking about TB4? There is evidence both ways on that drug, but there is no “hard” evidence it was taken.

    His speech was grandstanding of the highest level (he is not alone in that on this issue) and, boy oh boy, has that little performance come back to bite the AFL.

    1. Hi Megsie, you seem to have a strong view on the drugs that were administered so I assume you are talking with some level of expertise?
      I don’t know much about them at all so I have been relying on the views of people with relevant expertise. One of those people is Doc Reid who was at the coal face when all this happened so I would think would be in a better position than most to make comments on the programme.
      He wrote a letter to Hird in January 2012 expressing his strong concerns about the programme and here are a couple of verbatin quotes from his letter for you:
      “….for the benefits and also for side effects that are not know in the long term, I have trouble with all these drugs.”
      “I am not sure whether AOD 9064 is approved… Just because it is not classified as illegal doesn’t mean it can be used freely in the community, it cannot.”

      Of all the things I have read and heard its hard to go past this letter for an informed inside opinion, And there have obviously been a plethora of experts since – including Harcourt – who share Doc Reid’s assessment of the programme.

      You also stated that there was “no hard evidence” that TB4 was taken. I haven’t seem what evidence ASADA has, but I am assuming you have?
      if so, can you share it with us, as this would be a major scoop for TCS website.

      1. Dr Reid’s letter is an interesting point that many refer back to. Certainly it appears he had some major concerns at that early stage of the program, and he’s obviously a skeptic when it comes to these kinds of treatments.
        That said his concerns obviously got allayed, and I say that for two reasons. The first is that Reid remained happily at Essendon and still does to this day, despite definitely not needing the money as he has a highly successful private practice.
        The second is that he and James Hird remained extremely close, even after the letter became public and despite what certain Age journos tried desperately to convince the world.

        Oh and his AOD fears without question got allayed, because he later approved it’s use.

        The letter certainly hurt Essendon’s cause and seemingly raised some very valid concerns, but it’s worth remembering it’s also a snapshot in time that has long since passed with a contented Dr Reid.

        It’s a worthy discussion though. That said, Meggsie is 100% correct that Dr Harcourt was grandstanding in our opinion, and certainly used emotive phrases and some buzz words to spice his presentation up. Doesn’t mean everything he said was wrong, but he definitely had his chest out.


        1. Thanks for the reply TCS.
          If Reid’s concerns were allayed I am wondering who allayed them?
          Hird? Not possible as he didn’t have the expertise.
          The Weapon?? I hope not as the club eventually sacked him because they believed he was incompetent.
          Dank???Highly unlikely. Dank came to the EFC with an already dubious reputation and he is also only a self proclaimed “sports scientist”. He is not and has never been registered and this could have been easily verified with a couple of phone calls. So it really stretches the bounds of credibility to suggest that a very experienced doctor could have been converted so easily from a very critical “skeptic” to a “true believer” in a very short time by someone who is not formally qualified and who the Doc clearly (based on his letter) doesn’t respect or trust.
          You made reference to Reid subsequently approving AOD which I assume you probably got from the AFL charge sheet, so lets have a closer look at that “approval”
          Following Reid’s letter, a set of protocols were established which basically required Dank/Robinson to provide all the available data to Reid outlining the potential benefits and possible side-effects of proposed supplements use and Reid would then have to provide formal approval before proceeding. .
          The AFL charge sheet alleges that the approval of AOD from Reid was only informal because just about all the protocols had been ignored. Robinson had actually provided Reid with information that stated that clinical trials had failed to prove efficacy. Despite stating in his letter that he was not sure whether or not AOD was legal he made no direct inquiries with ASADA or received anything from Dank/Robinson confirming it was approved.
          He could also have easily discovered that 6 clinical trials had not established that it was safe to inject AOD 9064 on an on-going basis.(Although based on the tone of his letter it is clear he was already very concerned about this aspect).
          So the obvious question is – why did he then approve it’s use?

          I can only speculate on the reasons why but here is my best effort.
          I agree with you he wasn’t there for the money. I think he loved the club, he loved his role in the club and he loved James Hird. His business practice was his job, but his role with the EFC was his passion. So it would have been a very tough gig to walk away from. And to do that he would have severely damaged his friendship with Hird. **Just took out a little bit of speculation that I’m 100% certain given his comments Dr Reid would vehemently disagree with.**

          One thing I do agree with you on completely – Harcourt’s speech in Zurich was completely inappropriate. He should not have spoken so openly about what had happened with the investigation still in full swing and his assertions have probably assisted the EFC legal challenge greatly. I agree that there was an element of chest beating in his speech.

          1. Your speculation is as good as our Mikey, but much of this is certainly extremely speculative.

            His fears on the substances listed were presumably allayed by the research he did on those substances. You’d have to admit that if Reid was as poorly treated and marginalized as much of the media try to portray – particularly by Hird – it would be very strange and virtually impossible for the two of them to have remained as close as they did.

            As I said previously certainly Reid had issues with the program early on as evidenced by his letter, however equally as clearly that letter was a snapshot in time, a time that clearly passed given his subsequent actions. It’s safe to say his reservations on the program remained, but people who constantly trot out the letter as evidence also constantly ignore his actions over the following two and half years. Much like those who constantly trot out the Ziggy Switkowski “pharmacologically experimental environment” line as definitely evidence also totally ignore the fact that Switkowski had made it very clear he was anything but an expert in supplement use – or elite sporting environments at all. Ziggy must shift uneasily every time someone trots that line out as evidence of PED use.

            Apologies for the slow response, past few articles have had big responses. TCS.

          2. Thanks TCS
            **Quotes from Dr Reid’s letter that we haven’t published, which formed part of Dr Reid’s legal case**
            Just imagine for a minute if rather that Doc Reid being converted to a believer in the programme, Hird had instead listened to the only – and very experienced – medically trained person employed by the club. A person who was a great friend and whom we presume Hird held in high regard. Just imagine if Hird had acted on Reid’s judgement (at that snapshot in time) of the dangers of the programme and potential fall out. If he had then either stopped the programme altogether or made sure the protocols were strictly followed and Doc Reids assessment of every substance was accepted without question.
            He may not have agreed with Reid’s view and felt really peed off, but he still accepted it because Reid was the club Doctor, who should have the final say and he trusted his judgement.

            How different would Hird’s world and the EFC’s be now!
            Hird would still be coach with his reputation in tact, CEO Robson would not have lost his job, Evans would still be president and still friends with Hird, the club would not have been severely penalised,and most importantly the players would not have been put through nearly 2 years of hell!

            Everything that Reid said in that letter has pretty much happened. While that now seems very insightful one of my medical sources commented that Reid definitely didn’t have psychic powers because “any fool should know if you go too close to the edge there is a chance you might fall off” ,

            Whatever you think about the rights or wrongs of the programme, you can’t deny that if the Doc’s concerns had been acted upon at that “snapshot in time” then the EFC could have avoided this whole awful mess.

          3. Couple of points here Mikey – there are several Doctors and medical staff employed by Essendon (and every other club), Dr Reid is the most senior and recognizable medical professional at the Club, but certainly not the only one.

            If you’re trying to convince me that Hird’s and Essendon’s public image would be better now without employing a supplements program or indeed Stephen Dank you’re not going to have a difficult time doing so.

            What that doesn’t justify is the shambolic investigation, witch hunts and constantly ill-informed commentary that has accompanied this ‘saga’. Either way, we’re well off the topic of this piece now, might be a good blog post for you? I’ve saved you a full copy if you want it.

            Thanks. TCS.

      2. Thanks Mikey,

        With regard to Dr Harcourts comments on drugs, the only drug that didn’t have the approval of a Therapeutic Authority in the world was AOD-9604, the rest had been approved somewhere, that says that weren’t so new that no-one knew about them. AOD has been around a long time and has status GRAS in the US (generally regarded as safe). I question why some of these substances were given to Essendon players and what the long term issues might be. But I dislike an authority figure such as Dr Harcourt using the throw away line that “a lot of the drugs were so new they couldn’t test for them” when that isn’t the case. Most of them were well known but a lot were used for a different purpose to their original design.

        The hard evidence would be a vial marked TB4, a confession, or an eye witness, other than that (based on the Interim report and charge sheet) we have an invoice with “Thymosin Peptide” as the description and some Text chatter between Dank and Charter that never mentions Essendon. ASADA may have new evidence regarding TB4 but it can only be a paper trail leading to Alavi and it stops there, other than for the invoice to Essendon. The invoice was for 26 vials and they have issued 34 notices WTF? But the others were attempting to use TB4 weren’t they? The vials were 5ml and that is the dosage Shane Charter told Dank to administer once a week and then once a month per player, Dank ordered 20 vials, enough for 2 players for a season… please explain. There were no other invoices for Thymosin according to the interim report. I’d love to see this killer evidence ASADA has, it must be real good.

        1. Thanks Megsie,
          You have obviously done you homework and I respect that. But I am assuming you are not formally qualified in this field and like all of us you are only an amateur trying your best to interpret the available information.
          The research I have relied on is from a number of different sources who are formally qualified to offer an informed opinion. Their views -despite being unconnected and from different fields and localities here and overseas – have been remarkably consistence.
          In summary their views suggest that while any long-term negative side-effects for many of these “legal” supplements may be a relatively low risk it cannot be discounted altogether. There is almost always a degree of risk with injecting any substance into someone and that risk needs to be weighed up against the potential benefits. If it is proven that the benefits are great then maybe it is worth the risk, particularly if the risk of side-effects is considered low. But the general view was that the science on the benefits of a lot of the supplements used at the EFC was not conclusive and contentious.
          However the biggest concern was the high frequency and combinations of the supplements used. There have been no clinical trials supporting this level of frequency/combination so in effect the players at the EFC were the clinical trial.
          I have searched far and wide on this subject and have not found any qualified person who has endorsed what happened at the EFC. The Sports Science peak body have also expressed their strong concerns about what happened at the EFC and have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from Dank. So apart from amateur sleuths can you point me in the direction of any formally qualified source who has endorsed the EFC supp’s programme?

          In regards to the evidence ASADA, I am in no position to speculate what they may or may not have. But bear in mind that the evidence needs to only be to “comfortable satisfaction” and that their evidence has been reviewed and endorsed by eminent legal minds.

          1. Mikey, you miss my point, I am not defending the Essendon program, what I am questioning is why Dr Harcourt needed to embellish his presentation with mis-truths, none of th drugs were so new they couldn’t test for them. The only drug without a Therapeutic approval was AOD. He added a mis-truth to make his presentation more dramatic.

            And finally, Ben McDevitt said they reviewed the evidence and we all ended up in the same place. What he didn’t say was we reviewed the evidence and agreed we had a strong case that required show cause notices to be issued. “We all ended up in the same place”, what place is that? And why such vague language?

    2. Megsie – My knowledge of all the supplements used at the EFC is limited so I am happy to take you at your word on that as you have clearly done some homework. I think Harcourt’s speech was completely inappropriate and it only makes it worse if he has included mis-truths.

      I have wondered about why the AFL allowed Harcourt to make that speech given that the investigation by ASADA was still in full swing and i can only surmise that at that point the AFL didn’t expect ASADA were ever going to be able to find enough evidence to charge the players. But that still doesn’t justify the chest beating and revealing of sensitive information that took place in that speech.

      1. Hi Mikey, completely agree with all of that,

        WADA introduced the S.0 category to stop “new drugs” sneaking through. If ho Therapeutic Authority has approved a drug, the assumption is there is not enough data to determine its effects on athletes either as a PED or as a masking agent, and then there is the question of an athletes health as well. But if it has been approved, there have been extensive clinical trials and there is a lot of data available and WADA/ASADA can make a decision on the classification of the drug. The AOD confusion, which has never been explained, is because it has been around a long time, there have been lots of clinical trials and lots of data is available, but no-one has wanted to pay the big bucks to get it approved (basically no-one can really prove the benefits outweigh the costs). ASADA possibly believed it has no PE attributes (as do a number of other people) and so advised it was OK to use, but WADA says while no Authority has approved it, it is banned, that is the rule and ASADA should have known better. If a Therapeutic Authority approved it somewhere it would probably come off the banned list, wouldn’t that be farcical? WADA have, in the past, cleared drugs after an athlete has served a suspension, basically because the science used to ban the drug was wrong, i find that a concern.

  3. The AFL is a cartel, compounded by untold monies & assets. Its an interesting fact that no president or other official has come out, stating issues contrary to the official ‘AFL line’. I find this troubling in an organisation the size of the AFL…..remember, “There but the grace of God, go I”. My assumption is that most AFL teams where chasing the edge in supplements, so surely in Feb. 2013, there should have been an audit into all clubs.

    So answer this simple question – What has Essendon done that is wrong? No assumptions, no rumours, bring your evidence, and convict us – come on, it can’t be that hard can it?

    What it says to me is that the people running the AFL have overlooked a crucial truth – “you don’t own the game, the game was never yours, you are merely a custodian, responsible to the people (the market) – and when faith in you is lost, you will become nothing”. Hey Caroline, I’m talking to you……

    So, for all of you spruikers, be afraid, come clean now and apologise now – Demi is gone, you are on your own.

  4. Here is something to think about, can you imagine being accused by the police of a crime and then having leaks come out about incompetent investigations, corrupt police, pre-ordained results and a media that only reports one side of the story. So, how would you feel? A bit like Essendon? Justice needs not only to be done but needs to be seen to be done.

  5. Loving your work on this subject TCS. It must be truly galling for our friends at Fairfax to know that the actual story is unfolding before their eyes at their bitter rivals.

    It’s also incumbent on you to ensure “bombshell” and “game–changer” feature in future pieces. These juicy descriptors appear to be another minimum requirement in any discussion of this matter.

  6. Fairfax just continues to embarrass itself – whoever is in charge of the direction in which The Age is taking this story should reconsider their own position.

  7. Indeed, if the AFL are the players employer, shouldn’t Workcover be investigating the AFL and not its member clubs?

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