Report alleges doping rife among Australian athletes

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

DRUGS IN SPORT:Widespread doping and illegal drug use among Australian athletes has been alleged in a bombshell report by the country’s crime commission (ACC).

The use of performance-enhancing drugs – in some cases facilitated by organised crime – was unearthed in a year-long investigation. In what’s been described as a major blow to professional sport’s integrity in Australia, the ACC found that the use of banned drugs had been “orchestrated and condoned” by coaches, sports scientists and support staff across multiple sporting codes.

The ACC found that crime groups were involved in the distribution of banned drugs including hormones and growth-hormone releasing substances called peptides.

“The findings are shocking and will disgust Australian sports fans,” said Jason Clare, the national minister for home affairs and justice. “It’s cheating but it’s worse than that. It’s cheating with the help of criminals. We’re talking about multiple athletes across multiple codes.”

The ACC said crime groups had taken advantage of legal loopholes making it possible to supply substances that breach anti-doping rules. It said professional sport in Australia was “highly vulnerable” to infiltration by such groups.

“This is particularly serious. Links between organised crime and players exposes players to the risk of being co-opted for match-fixing,” said Clare.

One potential case of match-fixing was identified by the ACC but it did not release details, citing legal reasons.

‘Performance-enhancing’

Clare said in some cases sports scientists had orchestrated the doping of entire teams. He said players were administered with drugs not yet approved for human use.

The Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority, Asada, has begun investigations into specific cases. When the story broke it declined to name individuals or clubs involved for legal reasons.

The former head of the Asada, Richard Ings, said it was a wake-up call for Australian sport. “This is not a black day in Australian sport, this is the blackest day in Australian sport” he told ABC TV.

“Peptides and other hormones are very serious performance-enhancing drugs and at the moment they are very difficult to detect through testing, so the only way to determine whether athletes are using them is through the coercive powers that have been employed by the Australian Crime Commission [like] witness statements, testimony, phone taps and other more traditional law enforcement approaches to identify who is doing what and when,” he said.

The ACC report follows revelations on Tuesday that one of the country’s top Australian rules football (AFL) clubs, Essendon, was being investigated by Asada over concerns that supplements, believed to be peptides, were given to its players in 2012.

Players took supplements

The club admitted its players took supplements but would not say what was in them or how many players were involved. Essendon’s coach, James Hird, said he believed the players were clean. “The supplements our players were given, in my opinion and my knowledge, were all approved and within the regulations we all play the game by,” he said.

Essendon’s fitness coach, Dean Robinson, was suspended. He had previously worked at another AFL club.

Players face bans of more than two years if found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs. It’s thought that if the supplements were as widely used as feared at Essendon, the club may face difficulty fielding a team this season, according to some newspaper reports.

In response to the ACC’s report on doping in Australia, each of the country’s major sporting codes, including soccer, rugby union and rugby league, Australian rules football and cricket have agreed to establish integrity units and to deal with doping, and pledged to co-operate with Asada.

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