Fears have been raised among players that the practice of micro-doping - common in sports such as cycling and athletics - might have been employed by rogue individuals in the AFL.
Concerns have been expressed to the AFL Players Association that a small number of players might have been taking tiny, undetectable amounts of performance-enhancing substances such as testosterone and human growth hormone, or its equivalents. The AFLPA has been made aware players might have used arm patches - similar to nicotine patches - that contain testosterone, or have used creams with properties similar to HGH.
The concerns, while not widespread, have also been aired at club level. They are that these practices, although far from routine and certainly underground, are suspected to have been used by rogue players across different clubs.
This comes after the investigation into whether Essendon took performance-enhancing drugs, though these fears are not pointing directly to the Bombers, who on Wednesday took the dramatic step of announcing a review of governance and processes at the club. It will be carried out by former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski.
Former ASADA chief executive Richard Ings said micro-doping was the method of cheating used by cycling's Lance Armstrong and athletics' fallen heroine Marion Jones and usually involved using a cocktail of undetectable amounts of different substances such as HGH, testosterone and EPO. Ings said the advantage of micro-doping was the amounts were small enough to avoid detection, but that by using different substances in concert, including with ''transdermal patches,'' the overall effect was significant.
But while the player-generated concerns centre on HGH-like substances or peptides and testosterone - steroids or the like - there has never been any suggestion that EPO, which boosts the production of red blood cells and is rife in cycling, has been abused by AFL players.
''I don't know if it's gone on in the AFL,'' Ings said of micro-doping, ''but I do know that it's common [in sport].''
Ings called micro-doping ''the most common way athletes use banned substances. It's the way they do it - creams and patches and micro-doping.'' Ings said micro-doses of HGH or substances with similar properties were typically injected directly into the bloodstream.
Testosterone patches can be purchased over the internet without prescription.
The fears about micro-dosing coincide with the players' association making specific presentations to each of the 18 clubs on performance-enhancing drugs. One of its main messages has been that the whole issue of PEDs no longer focuses mainly on testing for these substances and that detection, increasingly, will be by other means.
The AFLPA in the past has placed a greater focus on discussing the illicit drugs code. But in the wake of the Essendon investigation it has placed renewed emphasis on PEDs.
- The Age