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Sports scientist admits offering peptides to rugby league players, denies link to cancer death

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SYDNEY - Sports scientist Stephen Dank has admitted offering peptides to National Rugby League players in Australia but rejected any link between the use of performance-enhancing substances and the death of a player from Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper on Friday published leaked information from an investigation commissioned by NRL club Cronulla into allegations involving the club's supplements program in 2011. Jon Mannah, who recovered from a bout of lymphoma in 2009 to play five games of the 2011 NRL season for Cronulla, died in January this year aged 23.

The newspaper questioned, based on comments in the investigation, whether Mannah's cancer relapse was somehow related to peptide use.

Dank issued a statement to Channel Nine later Friday saying he "definitely did not put (Mannah) in a position where he could be harmed."

The Australian sporting landscape was rocked in February after the Australian Crime Commission released the findings of a year-long investigation that alleged widespread drug use by elite athletes and links with organized crime.

Federal Justice Minister Jason Clare made the investigation public in a news conference, saying "multiple athletes from a number of clubs" in the professional football leagues were suspected of using or having used performance enhancing substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs.

Rugby League and the Australian rules Australian Football League clubs have come under scrutiny, and Dank has been involved in a number of the clubs under investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency. Dank has strongly denied ever giving banned substances to NRL players, while Cronulla staff and players have denied knowingly administering or taking illegal substances.

No player or coach has been charged.

In the latest twist, the Telegraph highlighted an extract of a leaked document which implied that because Mannah was with the club in 2011, there was a chance he was involved in the supplements program and that, in turn, could have had medical implications for him.

The products allegedly given to Cronulla players in 2011 were not on the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list at the time, but the section in the WADA code dealing with peptide use includes a catch-all phrase that makes it clear substances with a "similar chemical structure or similar biological effect" to those listed are prohibited.

Dank issued a statement saying he felt sorry for the Mannah family in the wake of the report.

"I'm outraged at the suggestion that I accelerated or contributed to his death," he said. "I was aware of what Jon's condition was. I definitely did not put him in a position where he could be harmed.

"I checked with oncologists about what effects peptides would have on his condition. I was assured they were safe for him to use. Like all players, Jon was given full information about what he was doing and it was his decision whether or not to take part.

"What has been reported and implied today is horrifying and untrue."

Cancer expert Professor Robert Baxter was quoted by the Australian Associated Press as saying "there is no evidence that it's a genuine risk," referring to the link between peptide use and acceleration of Mannah's cancer.

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