Drug Free Sport New Zealand has engaged the World Anti-Doping Agency in an ongoing investigation into deer velvet supplements.
But while the medical director of both the New Zealand Rugby Union and New Zealand Cricket has warned athletes to halt use, New Zealand Golf has turned to the deer industry in an attempt to defend Kiwi icon Sir Bob Charles from "unfounded" and "unfair" suggestion of drug violations - pre-empting the verdict of the world's top anti-doping experts.
World golf hall of famer and 1963 British Open champion Charles, 76, has endorsed deer velvet supplements for 20 years and admits personal use. But, Charles says he was unaware deer velvet naturally contains insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).
The world anti-doping code, written by Wada, prohibits athletes from using IGF-1 at all times.
The issue came to light last week when Fijian golfer Vijay Singh and American football star Ray Lewis were also linked to the substance and the possibility they had breached drug rules.
Graeme Steel, DFSNZ chief executive, told the Sunday Star-Times "it would have been nice" had NZ Golf discussed the situation with the national anti-doping signatory first.
Steel said he is in contact with Wada and expects to release a public advisory tomorrow.
"I'm in the middle of preparing a statement which we [DFSNZ] will probably put out on Monday. We're in discussion with Wada to make sure we're aligned with them and the rest of the world," Steel said.
"If we [DFSNZ] identify something in a supplement, it's our responsibility to tell athletes that, and warn there is risk.
"It may be that it is at a trace level that is equivalent to some foods. But, what we don't know about a supplement is what a manufacturer has done to it."
NZ Golf's defence of Charles is based upon a technicality - claiming capsule ingestion only carries minuscule quantities of IGF-1 as opposed to other methods, such as sprays or "SWATS", which both Singh and Lewis have been linked with.
NZ Golf said Mark O'Connor, CEO of Deer Industry New Zealand, "explained the difference between the two products".
"Deer velvet does contain IGF-1, but at very low levels," O'Connor said in the NZ Golf statement.
"IGF-1 is a naturally occurring substance found in many food products including milk and meat - also at low levels."
Steel acknowledged there could be merit in such use method claims, but was cautious over safety claims from food parallels.
"There is a difference between whether it is taken orally and digested - some say it renders it down, renders it inert - or whether it is concentrated and injected, or what have you," he said.
"We are in a position where this is either a food-type level, or a more serious issue - and if it is, does that relate to how it is ingested?"
NZRU and NZC medical director Dr Ian Murphy expressed concern and said Steel's advice should be respected.
"In light of the comments that it may contain insulin like growth factor, yes you'd have concerns if any players were taking the product," Murphy said.
"We would certainly follow the lead of Drug Free Sport and Wada. They are first-class and I would take heed of what message they had."
Alex Baumann, chief executive of High Performance Sport New Zealand, also said his Crown entity will follow Steel's advice.
"With certain supplements there's always potential for a manufacturer to alter concentration levels," Baumann said.
"We [HPSNZ] will seek Graeme Steel's advice."
Professor Steve Stannard, head of Massey University's school of sport and exercise, said any supplement use carries danger of contamination, positive doping and also questioned the ethics of technicalities around method of use. "The intent is the same, it doesn't matter how you take it," Stannard said. "It doesn't matter who's promoting a product either, it doesn't mean it's safe and you won't return a positive drug test."
Ian Carline, CEO of the Silberhorn company whose products Charles endorses, lashed out in defence of his products, alleging Steel "doesn't know what he's talking about".
Steel has led New Zealand's anti-doping programme since it was created in 1989, served on the International Olympic Committee's medical commission and been an independent observer for Wada.
Carline, who claims he supplies a "who's who in the rugby industry" and has a number of other recognisable Kiwi athlete customers, said he was aware of the presence of IGF-1 but does not consider it necessary to warn them.
Southland rugby player Jason Rutledge took the product until about 2011 without knowing it contained a banned muscle growth hormone.
Carline could not give an absolute anti-doping guarantee, estimating he was "ninety-nine to ninety-five per cent" sure of anti-doping safety.
- © Fairfax NZ News