Mud flung at Australian sport over drugs investigation is sticking

Mon, Feb 18, 2013, 00:00

ON RUGBY:Ten days ago the Australian Crime Commission (ACC,) the most powerful criminal investigation unit in the land, summoned the chief executives of AFL, rugby league, cricket, soccer and rugby. They met for a confidential briefing regarding a secret investigation, code named Project Aperio.

The ACC report’s subtitle sums it up. “New generation performance and image enhancing drugs (PIED) and organised criminal involvement in their use in professional sport.” According to the ACC, professional players are taking a new generation of performance enhancing drugs and organised crime are supplying it. This unholy relationship opens the possibility of criminals coercing players into match fixing.

The nation listened in horror as federal ministers accused Australian sport of “widespread and endemic” use of PIEDs.

Jason Clare, the Federal Minister for Justice, stated, that “multiple athletes” from a number of clubs were suspected of using or having used performance-enhancing drugs and club officials have been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, “a variety of substances”.

The relationship between how Australians define themselves and sport is indivisible. Competing and winning in all sports is how an isolated country proved its worth to the world and to itself. To be told our most revered sportsmen were doping was incomprehensible.

When I heard the accusations I was truly shocked. Most Australians were thinking the same thing as me, “Who are these cheating bastards?” Ten days later we still don’t know. The ACC report was a briefing. No names, no details. A mountain of mud was slung at professional sport and a lot has stuck.

The media shifted into overdrive. In the wake of Lance Armstrong’s betrayal, the gossip columns, the ignorant and the sports bashers have never had it so good. As one AFL coach put it, “The trouble is that from now on, any team that shows any improvement in fitness or performance will be accused of doping.”

I am not naive. I believe it is likely a small number of cheats take PIEDs in every sport in every country on the planet. Yet after 20 years in professional sport I have never encountered the use of performance enhancing drugs in any organisation in which I have worked.

I have assisted players getting help to deal with alcohol or recreational drug problems. They were young men in desperate need of clinical support.

One player bought flu tablets from a pharmacy because he had a cold. He ignorantly pumped himself full of the banned substance pseudoephedrine.

A first game rookie was an asthmatic. He incorrectly completed his medical declaration form for Wada. He failed his first ever drug test because he did not declare his medically approved use of Ventolin and the club missed the administrative error.

Those individuals are not drug cheats. An athlete who knowingly takes a banned substance to gain an advantage over opponents is a drug cheat. They should be banned for life. Thankfully, I have never had to deal with that situation. This is the same for all but a tiny percentage of professional coaches and administrators.

Ten days after the doping accusations, the situation in Australia is an absolute mess. Rugby and the Olympic sports are cleared and not under investigation. Soccer is not being investigated for PIEDs, however reports of massive money from gamblers in Asia on certain A-League matches means the horror of possible match-fixing remains to be cleared.

Six NRL clubs and one AFL club have been notified they are under investigation but are not being told who is being investigated or what they are being investigated for. The clubs are now guilty until proven innocent – an unjust situation.

Inexplicably, there appears to be no observable systematic management of the investigation. The long-serving South Sydney Rabbitohs chief executive, Shane Richardson, describes the farcical situation of club chiefs as finding out they are not under investigation via the media.

Dangerously, the media are the only source of information. It is reporting that the targets of the CAA are the criminal gangs who supply the PIEDs and not the players breaching Wada regulations. The source says NSW Police say it is highly unlikely any NRL player will face charges.

The phrase “endemic or widespread” was used at the press conference and the reality is causing real public anger amongst players, officials and supporters.

Yesterday it was reported the NRL clubs are considering a class action litigation against sports minister Kate Lundy and justice minister Jason Clare for their press conference statements as club sponsors are running scared. They don’t want to be sponsoring drug cheats and clubs, understandably, want their reputation restored.

A national election is looming and the federal government is dealing with two internal corruption scandals. The suspicion is, to divert attention from their own scandals, the government has created a sporting scandal and rushed the release of the report. Both the ACC and the politicians deny this, but the lack of detail and action is damming.

The ACC, the police and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority need to move fast and eliminate any criminal activity because the innocent in Australian sport, and that’s the vast majority, are paying a very high price.

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