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Aussie rules football league criticised for its stance on supplements

By RJ Whitehead , 11-Apr-2014

Aussie rules football league criticised for its stance on supplements

The Australian Football League’s release last month of a new list of prohibited treatments has been criticised by the country’s main complementary healthcare body for its claim that supplements are unproven.

The list surpasses the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) code and outlaws certain treatment providers, including compounding pharmacists and anti-ageing clinics, unless a prescription or referral is made by a club doctor and AFL approval is granted. 

Also outlawed is the intravenous administration of vitamin C and antioxidants, and any herbal medicines supplied “in connection with a network marketing or pyramid scheme”.

Players will also have to watch their tea and coffee intake as they can no longer have a caffeine level above the dose of 4mg/kg. Caffeine is not banned by Wada, having been removed from the prohibited list in 2004.

The changes to the AFL's anti-doping code also include cataloguing the league's prohibited and controlled treatments, a list of which will be completed before the start of next season.

Chasing supplement benefits

The new controls on supplements were designed to prevent clubs from chasing benefits that are largely unproven, the league’s news service quoted Dr Peter Harcourt, the AFL medical director, as saying.

"It's about trying to take supplements out of the equation. Football is about man-on-man competition, it's about strategy, it's got nothing to do with pharmacological agents.

However, this has drawn the ire of Carl Gibson, chief executive of the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia.

The AFL is yet to release its list to govern players’ use of nutritional supplements such as vitamins, fish oils and concentrated food extracts, so there appears to be some confusion about what the AFL spokesperson is referring to when they say ‘supplements’,” said Carl Gibson, chief executive of the CHC.

Our industry’s products are supported by a large number of clinical trials—more than 16,000 trials on complementary medicines have been published over the previous 30 years, and that number is growing rapidly.”

Players get to choose

Gibson did, however, give a nod to the AFL’s guidance recognising the requirement that products sold legally in Australia must first appear on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

This is in response to the apparently institutional dosing of a supplement at Essendon last year, which led to the club being banned from the AFL finals and its coach, James Hird, suspended for one year as a result of this programme.

The list has made it clear that players are responsible for what they choose to consume, and not their clubs.

It is encouraging that the AFLs new position recommends players have an informed say in what supplements they choose to take. Informed choice and education of consumers about the products they are taking is something the CHC continues to promote,” said Mr Gibson.

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