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Feb 7, 2013

Bombshell sports probe: drugs and corruption to 'disgust' fans

Sports fans are bracing for the worst as sports and justice chiefs dropped a bombshell today: allegations of the widespread and systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs in Australian sport.

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The Australian Crime Commission has dropped a bombshell on the future of the country’s favourite sporting codes, in a devastating report laying bare links between organised crime, professional clubs, sports scientists and scores of players.

The ball-tearing Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport report, 12 months in the making and first foreshadowed by Crikey yesterday, demonstrates how widespread the market is among multiple players and multiple codes for so-called “performance and image enhancing drugs” (PIEDS), most of which are banned under national and international sporting codes.

The use of peptides (alleged to have been injected into some Essendon AFL players), hormones and illicit drugs is widespread across multiple major codes, despite being unproven for human consumption, the report finds.

And the use of drugs is making athletes vulnerable to corruption and match-fixing. Victorian Police said today there are already investigations underway into potential match-fixing.

In an unprecedented press conference this morning — fronted by six heads of the major sporting codes aligned to the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPS), Justice Minister Jason Clare and Sports Minister Kate Lundy — journalists heard that organised crime syndicates, dodgy doctors and sketchy supplement advisers are all apparently involved in the vial orgy.

Clare laid down the law in a statement, branding the findings “shocking” and saying they will “disgust Australian sports fans. It’s cheating … with the help of criminals.” Lundy threatened to throw the book at any proven offenders: “If you want to cheat, we will catch you; if you want to fix a match we will catch you.”

The link with organised criminals and illicit drug importers — some involved in front companies with direct links to clubs — is widespread. The match fixing links, if true, could potentially devastate the multi-million dollar cash cows that inspire the passion of so much of the Australian population.

The report reveals that “multiple players across some sporting codes and specific clubs within those codes are suspected of currently using or having previously used peptides, which could constitute an anti-doping rule violation. The level of suspected use of peptides varies.” The report states:

“There are clear parallels between what has been discovered in Australia and the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong, which underlines the transnational threat posed by doping to professional sport, both from a ‘fair play’ perspective and as a broader integrity issue …

“The ACC has identified specific high-performance staff, sports scientists and coaches within some codes who have condoned and/or orchestrated the administration of prohibited substances, and substances not yet approved for human consumption, to players. In some cases, peptides and other substances were administered to players without them understanding the nature of the substances, and without the knowledge of the team doctor or club medical staff.”

The report also reveals:

  • Sports scientists and doctors are “experimenting” on elite athletes to determine if substances can improve performance
  • An instance of “team-based doping” at the hands of unnamed club officials and coaching staff
  • Officials from one club used injections and intravenous drips to dope players with a “variety of substances”, “possibly” including peptides
  • Links between professional athletes and organised crime identities in Australia.

COMPPS members — including the AFL, the ARL, the Australian Rugby Union and Cricket Australia — said in a statement they will create or build on their current integrity units in conjunction with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the National Integrity of Sports Unit. They vowed to work with governments and law enforcement agencies to protect sporting competitions from organised crime.

They agreed to toughen anti-doping policies and pledged a “zero tolerance approach to any person peddling or advocating the use of inappropriate substances”.

“Above all, COMPPS’ member sports agree to be partners in this new serious effort to protect our sports from criminal infiltration — and preserve the integrity of our sporting landscape.”

Yesterday in the Senate, Lundy introduced a bill to double ASADA’s resources, strengthen its investigative powers and mandate that those who fail to co-operate with the body would receive civil penalties.

At the presser today a grave ACC chief John Lawler said he hoped information gleaned from players would lead to successful prosecutions, after it was flicked to state-based police forces. He rejected talk of “kingpins”, saying it was better to think of the problem as interwoven in the specific cultures and connections of the sport in question.

This morning The Age reported that a convicted drug trafficker with the moniker “Dr Ageless” had been supplying sacked Essendon sports scientist Steve Dank with potentially illegal substances.

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