Australian sports people have been offered advice from all sorts of weird and wonderful angles since the infamous “Blackest Day in Australian Sport” media conference in Canberra last month. So here’s a bit of home-spun wisdom from Mark “Chopper” Read: never plead guilty.
It’s advice politicians Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper and Geoff Shaw seem to have followed to the nth degree. So why not a Cronulla-Sutherland rugby league player, or an Essendon footballer?
Since that press conference, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency and one of its former staffers have conducted a campaign to try to get sports people to confess to something, almost anything. After all, it appears they have little or no evidence, as distinct from the new word on the block — “intelligence” — to charge anyone with breaches of the doping code.
The National Rugby League asked ASADA to provide names last Friday so that infraction notices could be issued. ASADA’s response was that it was not in a position to do so … yet.
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But reading the media reports and the manner in which the case is being handled, one could be excused for thinking there is no doubt the Sharks are drug cheats.
We are told ASADA works quietly in the background and by law cannot release information to the public. But it is clear in this case (as with so many anti-doping cases overseas in the past) the cat is well and truly out of the bag. ASADA head Richard Ings himself said the “future of the NRL is under a cloud”.
That’s great for a TV grab to further incite the situation, but it’s hardly the stuff of fact and law. Much of the noise that exists around anti-doping is not based in law or fact — cycling has been the battleground of trial by media for over a decade. In a number of instances in that sport we have seen athletes condemned, vilified and expelled on the basis of media claims and hysteria. Even when the law does get involved, it’s not the kind of law — with its guarantees of fair procedures and common law rights such as innocent until proven guilty — we are used to in the rest of society.
Without any evidence provided, ASADA is asking Cronulla players to accept a reduced ban for alleged doping offences. It comes from article 10.5.3 — “Substantial Assistance in Discovering or Establishing Anti-Doping Rule Violations” — of the code: when they help anti-doping authorities a ban may be reduced by up to three-quarters.
Ings tells us that in the end the athlete is responsible for what enters his or her body — the so-called principle of strict liability. All athletes would need to do is ring ASADA and check if they had any doubts as to what they were being administered.
The problem is, as Ings well knows, it isn’t that simple. Putting aside athletes’ reluctance to go to the policen and ask them if something that they may or may not be taking is illegal, in the area of peptides it is nearly impossible for an athlete to know whether the powdered supplements he or she might take are actually on the banned list.
The media reported last week the substances alleged to have been taken by the Sharks did not appear on the WADA prohibited list at the time they were meant to have been taken. This is a significant point that seems to have been missed in the hysteria to hang the Sharks out to dry — were the substances actually on the prohibited list? Look at the list: Thymosin Beta 4 and CJC-1295 peptides do not appear.
So what’s going on?