A former senior official at the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) was privately obtaining supplements and seeking advice from one of the men at the centre of the authority’s current probe into the use of performance enhancing substances in the NRL and AFL.
The ABC has obtained a series of explosive emails between “The Gazelle” Darren Hibbert, a sales representative with sports supplements company Advanced Sports Nutrition ASN, and ASADA’s former chief scientific officer Daniel Eichner in 2008.
Mr Hibbert is an associate of controversial biochemist Stephen Dank whose work is at the heart of ASADA’s investigations into rugby league’s Cronulla and the AFL’s Essendon.
Until now Mr Hibbert has been known in sporting and fitness circles as “The Gazelle”. But he used a different name in his dealings with ASADA, where he was nicknamed “The Professor”.
The emails begin on January 17, 2008, with Mr Hibbert writing to Mr Eichner, then ASADA’s chief scientific officer, asking for a letter of clarification on section two of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code, the same section ASADA is currently using to try and prove Mr Hibbert and Mr Dank have breached the anti-doping regulations.
Dear Daniel, I need the statement for the clarification of ASDA’s interpretation of s2 of the WADA code, in regards to growth factors, pretty urgently. Would you be able to forward it to me as soon as possible. Thanks for your help, I will keep in touch, also if you would like to know any information regarding the sports supplement industry in Australia, just give us a buzz…. It is not only the responsibility of the sports nutrition companies to comply with the TGA regulations but also to comply with athletes to make sure they are not taking anything that is banned. Regards, Darren Hibbert Technical Manager ASN – Advanced Sports Nutrition
At the time the email was written Mr Hibbert was working alongside controversial sports scientist Mr Dank at NRL club Manly, where the two men were running a cutting edge GPS and supplements regime including administering players with Actovegin, an extract from calves blood. Actovegin is not a banned substance. Mr Eichner wrote back 45 minutes later.
Thanks Darren, I have contacted WADA and I’ll get back to you when I hear from them. D. Dr Daniel Eichner Case Manager Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority
Four days later, Mr Hibbert emailed Mr Eichner again, asking for a letter from ASADA to help overcome a problem at the football club he was working at. It is believed that football club is Manly.
Hi Daniel, I need that letter about using products, including dairy products that contain naturally (sic) growth factors fairly urgently. One of the sporting clubs that we deal with have had their pre-season training interrupted because their club doctor believes a supplement they have been using from us to be human growth hormone and IGF-1 and he has banned his players from using it until ASDA gives the all clear. …Even a letter stating what you told me over the phone would be sufficient.
The email shows ASADA was made aware by Mr Hibbert of the nature of at least some of the regime at Manly. ASADA has told the ABC that IGF-1, or Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, was banned in 2008 under the WADA code.
The ABC has not been able to find any response from Mr Eichner until an email dated March 6, 2008, where Mr Eichner makes reference to an expected sample from Mr Hibbert. The email reveals a significant development in the nature of discussions between the supplements sales rep and one of ASADA’s most senior officials.
Hey Darren, I come back from two heavy weeks surfing expecting my protein powder sample 🙁 All well with Manly etc? Lates, D
Eight hours later, Mr Hibbert wrote back.
Hi Daniel, I am trying to arrange my schedule to make a trip to Canberra s I can deliver your protein powder personally… Manly are full steam ahead and getting ready for the opening of the NRL season. My stress is lower now, and so are Manly’s players cortisol levels. Must have something to do with the Humanofort? LOL…… They say it is the only supplement on the market that can dramatically reduce stress levels!
Humanofort is a muscle growth and recovery supplement manufactured exclusively by ASN. It is marketed as “a concentrated growth factor extract … a pharmaceutically standardised embryo extract that contains various growth factors and amino acids in a endogenous form. These growth factors like HP-100 are made of clusters of low-molecular weight peptides…. Humanofort is more concentrated in the amount of peptide growth factors it contains and this is why only a small amount is needed per serving.”
It is believed ASADA is currently tracking the use of Humanofort at both Manly and Cronulla rugby league clubs. The status of Humanofort under anti-doping regulations is unclear. On March 28, 2008, ASADA’s Mr Eichner emailed Mr Hibbert with some feedback about an unnamed supplement.
Hey Darren, Day three and feeling great! Great taste and very moreish 🙂 …. We may have to start talking a bulk price for me 🙂 Lates, D
Mr Eichner wrote to Mr Hibbert again on August 1, 2008, this time seeking advice on an upcoming anti-doping project.
Hi Professor, …Got a relapse of malaria and knocked me down for several weeks, only just getting back into training. Anything new at ASN? …I’ve just started working on a paper looking at future technology and what could potentially be abused in the sporting world. Would really appreciate if you might want to have a look or add some of your expert views.
Mr Hibbert responded four days later, and for the first time, it is revealed what supplement he had been providing Mr Eichner with.
Hey Dan, Sorry to here (sic) you have been ill. If you have still some of the HP-100 left over, you may find that having 2 serves a day will help you back on track to full health. I would be very interested in having a look at your paper on future technology. You might want to include us…… Except we do everything by the book. Hehe…..
On October 3, 2008, Mr Eichner wrote another email to Mr Hibbert, this time seeking his advice on a US-based online sports supplements store, zupplements.com.
A pattern of information sharing and mutual respect is made clear in the emails, with Mr Eichner complimenting Mr Hibbert on his level of knowledge. Mr Eichner wrote to Mr Hibbert again on October 14, 2008, looking for help in tracking down who could be selling the performance enhancing drug EPO. Mr Hibbert wrote back:
Hi Daniel, No, I don’t know of anybody who is selling it. Maybe athletes are getting it from overseas. Haven’t heard anything. Why do you want some! …. 🙂
Mr Eichner wrote back 40 minutes later.
Just like to know what’s avail. You never gave me a price for 5 kaygees of the good stuff 🙂 … Cheers, D
Mr Hibbert has told the ABC that he gave Mr Eichner a variety of supplements containing peptides or amino acids, including the protein powder HP-100.
Mr Hibbert told the ABC that he did not provide Mr Eichner with any prohibited substances. HP-100 is manufactured by ASN. ASN was advertising HP-100 as containing Insulin-like Growth Factor -1 (IGF-1) and Insulin-like Growth Factor-2 (IGF-2). Insulin-like growth factors naturally occur in foods including dairy.
ASADA has told the ABC that IGF-1 was listed as banned on WADA’s 2008 Prohibited List under section s2. ASADA is believed to be investigating whether HP-100 was given by Mr Hibbert to NRL players.
The emails between Mr Hibbert and ASADA raise questions about the authority’s knowledge of Mr Hibbert’s activities in 2008 and beyond.
The emails also reveal that Hibbert is not a stranger to the anti-doping authority, and that he was once viewed by at least one senior ASADA official as a trusted source of knowledge in anti-doping research and inquiries.
Mr Eichner on Friday declined to provide an on-the-record answer to the ABC regarding his communications with Mr Hibbert in 2008.
Mr Eichner left ASADA in 2009 to take up the role of science director for USADA. He is currently the executive director of The Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory SMRTL, a WADA-accredited lab in Salt Lake City, America.
In March, Mr Hibbert told the ABC’s 7.30 program he had sold supplements to NRL players out of his car, and that he has a client list of more than 20 current footballers from the Sharks, Sea Eagles and the Cowboys, who all bought supplements from him independently from their clubs.
Mr Hibbert on Friday sat down with ASADA investigators for a long-awaited interview about his involvement with various NRL clubs and players. It is believed ASADA sought to question him about what supplements he gave to several NRL players at both Manly and Cronulla, and whether he injected players with the peptides CJC-1295 and GHRP-6, both supplied by Mr Dank.
In August 7.30 revealed these supplements were allegedly made by Cronulla-based compounding chemist Maged Sedrak, who has been sanctioned twice for breaching the pharmaceutical regulations. After being found guilty of professional misconduct in 2005, the NSW Ministry of Health withdrew Mr Sedrak’s authority to possess, dispense of manufacture drugs of addiction in 2013.
Since 7.30 first revealed the names of the peptides CJC-1295 and GHRP-6, the status of each supplement has been widely debated. Both Mr Hibbert and Mr Dank have repeatedly told the ABC the substances they used were not banned by ASADA at the time, and that they have never supplied any players with prohibited supplements.