Stephen Dank's astonishing 'set up' claim about Essendon drugs saga

The former sports scientist is hoping to have documents from the Essendon Bombers investigation released to the public.

The 2013 Essendon Bombers walk off the field on the left, with Stephen Dank pictured giving a speech on the right.
Stephen Dank claims he was 'set up' in the early stages of drugs investigation into Essendon, which first came to light in 2013. Pictures: Getty Images

One decade after the Essendon Bombers doping scandal first emerged to the AFL public, a key figure at the centre of the saga has insisted he was 'set up' from the beginning. The spectre of the 2012 investigation into doping at the Bombers continues to haunt the club, with Stephen Dank making a series of extraordinary claims on the ten-year anniversary of the story breaking.

Culminating in 34 players being handed 12-month bans, a finals campaign forfeited and a 'broken' club, the ultimate decision against the club in the Court of Arbitration for Sport was a devastating moment for fans. Former club chairman David Evans self-reported the club's administering of substances, overseen by then club sports scientist Dank on February 5 2013.

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As part of a series studying the 10-years since Evans' report to the AFL in the Herald Sun, Dank said he believes to this day that 'lies and corruption' lay at the heart of the scandal. He maintains he never administered the banned peptide, Thymosin Beta-4, to players, resulting in 34 being suspended.

Dank has lodged an affidavit with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, forming part of a final effort to clear the names of the 34 players who were suspended. The AAT is determining whether anti-doping documents from the case will be released under Freedom of Information.

All three of Essendon, the AFL and Sports Integrity Australia (formerly known as ASADA, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority) have opposed the release of documents relating to the case. As part of his affidavit, Dank claims his phone was seized by customs officials after returning from a trip to Qatar.

The seizure, described by Dank as 'spurious', was ostensibly to search it for pornography. He said he was subsequently called in for a seven-hour interview with federal investigators.

He says there was one text message from roughly 7000 on his phone which directly mentioned Thymosin Beta-4, but says this was unrelated to Essendon. He also says he was not allowed, 'by law' to discuss the interview.

“Customs downloaded everything from my phone. There was no pornography (but) to the best of my memory, there were nearly 7000 text messages,” Dank said told the Herald Sun.

"It was a compulsory hearing, where I was not only compelled to attend, but also not permitted by law, to discuss. Suffice to say, when coupled with customs confiscating my phone … I believed I was being set up.”

Essendon's recovery from damaging drugs saga ongoing

The club's efforts to return to the peak of its AFL powers is ongoing, with the Bombers hiring Brad Scott as head coach following the clumsy dismissal of Ben Rutten. A fruitless bid to hire former Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson eventually led to the hiring of Scott, who was picked over Bombers great James Hird, who was making an unlikely bid to return to the job after the 2013 saga cost him his job.

But club legend Kevin Sheedy was unhappy about the appointment, revealing that he actually voted for Hird but was overruled 6-1. “I am extremely disappointed that the comment from my club was that it was fully endorsed, when in fact I voted for James Hird to be the coach of Essendon,’’ Sheedy told the Herald Sun.

James Hird is pictured working as an assistant coach for the GWS Giants.
James Hird was overlooked for the Essendon coaching job in 2022, and has since left his position as an assistant coach with the GWS Giants. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images) (via Getty Images)

“The vote was 6-1. Now, I would’ve expected that to have been written, and that in the end the board actually won that vote. But I want to make sure all the fans know that I voted for James Hird and I’m extremely disappointed with the report that went out from the Essendon media department.

“I’m not happy. Don’t tell the Essendon fan base an untruth. This is what happens when you bring new people into the club. I actually felt insulted that Hird would think I voted against him after what he’s done for our club.’’

Essendon president David Barham thanked Hird for applying for the role on Friday and said he was open to the former coach and player returning to the club in another role. The Bombers' decision to interview Hird had raised eyebrows given the club great was coach during last decade's supplements scandal.

“Hirdy went through the process and I was glad he did,” Barham said. “He went through exactly the same process as everyone else. It was a completely independent process.

“Everybody had the same opportunity, that was really important. “Hirdy will always be a champion of this football club. I can‘t speak for him on whether he wants to get involved, that’ll be something for him. He’ll always be loved by this football club.”

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