If the extraordinarily well informed SMH writer, Roy Masters, is on the mark, rugby league is about to face its worst possible nightmare on the eve of the 2006 finals – a performance enhancing drug allegation involving a player with an NRL club.

In today’s Herald, Masters reveals that the allegation is likely to result from a “long and comprehensive” investigation by the very powerful Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA).

And, interestingly, if not worryingly for the game, the discovery apparently did not come from a positive test from a sample provided by a player.

While there are reports of much greater testing activity by ASADA after rugby league matches in recent weeks, it may in fact be a part of a wider investigation by the new authority which has wide powers to stamp out drug abuse in sport.

The authority’s chairman and chief executive, Richard Ings, gave some indication of what may lie ahead with this quote:

It’s as if we have kicked over a log in the forest and shone a very bright light on some of the darkest corners in Australian sport… We are seeing a lot of creatures scurrying for the corners to avoid the light…

The authority, set up by the Federal Government earlier this year, has wide ranging powers to investigate drug abuse in all sports that have signed up to the government’s anti-doping protocols – and sports that don’t sign up are ineligible for government funding.

The National Rugby League is a signatory, and will have to follow a range of procedures if the ASADA advises of a positive test.

If it happens, the publicity will be very damaging for rugby league – probably depending on how high a “profile” the player is.

And if he has anywhere near as high a profile as Wendell Sailor, then the damage rugby union suffered will at least be equalled if not multiplied. Sailor’s charge related to an illegal drug – there are hints in the Masters story today it involves a performance enhancing substance, probably a steroid.

The timing could hardly be worse for rugby league. The finals start in just over two weeks. The code is still wrestling with alcohol-driven off-field misbehaviour by players. And it has been negotiating a multi million dollar naming rights sponsorship deal following Telstra’s departure at the end of this season.

Peter Fray

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