I Think I Walked Past Stephen Dank This Morning

I’m about 85% sure that I walked past disgraced sports doctor Stephen Dank this morning on my way to work.

On a dreary morning in South Melbourne, Dank strangely stood out as he hurried along the Clarendon St sidewalk, an umbrella shielding his prominent face from lashings of wind and rain – and, perhaps, the public eye.

In person, Dank resembles a combination of Channel 9’s perma-tanned Sunday Footy Show presenter, Tim Gilbert, and Stephen Curry (the Australian actor; not the NBA All-Star point guard). It’s an odd combination, but distinctive.

Most Australians who carry at least a mild interest in sport would recognise his face, which has been splashed across our television screens ever since the ASADA story first broke.

But Dank must be damn near un-hirable at the moment*. He was hung out to dry by the Essendon football club, who were at the very least complicit in the peptides program that Dank is said to have administered during his tenure.

Sports smile?
Sports smile?

In the end, ASADA found that Essendon staff failed to implement basic management and medical practices to protect players from health and doping risks. Since then, several heads have rolled at Essendon over the supplement scandal, most notably its former coach and chief exponent of artfully tousled 90s hair, James Hird.

A trained biochemist, Dank was known for his controversial sports science techniques, which involved using calf blood and profiling players’ DNA, most notably during his time at the Manly NRL club. Many of the programs were seen as breaching unwritten laws of ethics within sport; a murky field if ever there was one.

So what on earth is he doing now?

*  *  *  *  *  *

Perhaps he is waiting for his $10 million defamation suit to come through. He has alleged that media outlets falsely accused him of providing illegal drugs to elite AFL and NRL athletes.  He also has actions pending against the AFL, the NRL, and ASADA itself.

And to be fair, he may be entitled to some form of payout, considering he has been the face of the entire clusterfuck saga that was sensationally referred to by the former Labor government as The Blackest Day in Sport.

But if it was, indeed, the blackest day in sport, you wouldn’t know it from the haphazard ASADA investigation. Last month, the ASADA investigation hit another road-block, with an expert panel known as the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel failing to make the “next critical call” on Dank’s role in the drugs case.

Just a reminder that this bloke is the new federal minister for sport
Just a reminder that this bloke is the new federal minister for sport

The ADRVP was meant to sit on April 9, but failed to establish a quorum following the recent departure of four of its seven members. It is now up to the federal government to get their shit together and appoint new members to the expert panel.

They may have already done that, but they missed their chance earlier this month to make a call on Dank; as such, the saga drags out once more.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Unlike the ASADA investigation, it was over quickly. He shot me a furtive glance, perhaps wondering whether I was one of the many Melbourne journalists looking to further muddy his already tainted name, before hurrying along on his way towards the CBD.

By Dave Edwards

* A quick post-article Google search revealed that Dank is actually overseeing English Super League side Hull KR’s high performance program from his home in Melbourne. He will also head up the sports science unit for the women’s Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition this September, which in itself is a funny footnote.

Old Yet Gifted Italian Footballer Paradoxically Confirms Australia’s Status as a Footballing Backwater

Alessandro Del Piero is saying ciao to Australia, and not in the ironic Double Bay wannabe-cosmopolitan way.

He’s genuinely Italian, and that’s how they say goodbye.

As far as I am concerned, only European people should use the word.

I won’t stand for hairdressers and yuppies throwing “ciaos” out like they’re hopping onto their vespas and shooting-off down a Tuscan laneway.

It may have sounded sophisticated in 1992. But not now. It’s 2014 and the Internet is now is charge. Italy isn’t exotic. Fucking Borneo, that’s exotic. Say goodbye top me in Kanyan, and I’ll be impressed. Ciao belongs with focaccia, Kepper pants, and other things than were cool twenty years ago.

But I digress. The point of this article is to talk about the legacy of ADP, who has recently called time on his days playing for Sydney FC.

And while I am not a religious man, I think it’s fair to say Australian football fans have genuinely been blessed to have been able to watch Del Piero live, in the flesh, every weekend, for the past two years.

What is this, 1998?
What is this, 1998?

But like having the ability to fart on cue, our blessing has also been our curse.

Delps, as is he affectionately known by nobody other than myself, is arguably one of the best football players of the past 30 years. He starred at the highest level for one of the world’s biggest clubs for the best part of two decades, and won almost everything on offer, including a World Cup.

His decision to sign for Sydney FC was understandably heralded as a major coup for the A League. The spectacle of having a player of ADP’s status playing in Australia would finally bring the local game the attention and recognition it so dearly craved. It would finally put us on the world map, and show all the doubters that we should be taken seriously.

In many ways, Del Piero’s signing has done all of that.

For the past two seasons he has lit-up the A League. Although his influence has admittedly waned over the past year, he has been a joy to watch.

While his teammates have been mediocre, Del Piero has dazzled with his free-kicks, deceptively mazy runs and uncanny ability to find space. And not only have his skills put defenders on their bums, they’ve also put bums on seats, with A League attendances enjoying a boost thanks largely to his presence.

ADP’s attitude has been impressive; a mix of Italian grace and not-so-Italian humility – the latter quality typified by his plain, black football boots. An unassuming, workmanlike touch that belied his refined, artistic footballing prowess (and also providing a sharp contrast to his teammates’ bright orange and pink boots).

He was so good he didn’t need flashy shoes.

These should be sufficient
These should be sufficient

But while the fact that a 39-year-old man can light up the A League does say a lot about ADP’s class, it also says a lot about the calibre of our premier footballing competition.

While the standard of the A League has improved exponentially over the past nine seasons, the introduction of a genuinely brilliant, yet aged, football star provides a yardstick with which we can truly measure our progress. And while Australian football is certainly doing better than the old NSL days, we still have a fair way to go.

Could a 40-year-old man walk into the NRL and be a superstar? I don’t know. Probably not.

ADP has been an unqualified success for Australian football, but as much as he has been great – it gives the haters another to beat soccer down with. Thankfully Australian soccer fans are used to beat-downs, so it’s all good.

Like a child who has been viciously bullied its whole life, their senses are acutely attuned to capture any slight and the retaliation reflex is sharpened and easily triggered.

Bullying can hurt
Bullying can hurt

And thus, I guarantee the first instance of some hack knocking ADP will be met with an immediate flurry of emails saying “soccer is not a pussy sport,” etc.

Delps’ departure will no doubt leave the A League exposed. We’ll still have the flashy fluorescent boots, sure, what about the quality? The humility? The grace?

Let’s hope Australia has done enough to avoid falling back into the football ‘backwater’ – and can instead reside in a denser, more diverse body of water that is of scientific interest and, therefore, worthy of preservation.

By Ben Shine