The Daily Telegraph's front page on Shayna Jack.

On Saturday night, Australian swimmer Shayna Jack announced that she had tested positive for a banned substance before pulling out of the 2019 World Aquatics Championships.

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) had discovered the substance Ligandrol during an out-of-competition test on June 26 and provisionally suspended Jack, although she and Swimming Australia had previously cited “personal reasons” for her no-show in South Korea.

The 20-year-old swimmer maintains her innocence, arguing in an Instagram post that she did not take the substance knowingly, and ASADA is still investigating the matter. The story has a million different angles, and you can bet that in the 48 hours since the new broke Australian media ran with them all.

The fact nerds

Straight off the bat, ABC — and to a lesser extent AAP — has already covered most conceivable angles with a noted evenhandedness. The national broadcaster covered the news as it broke from Saturday night, including Jack’s initial Instagram post; responses from Swimming Australia and Jack’s teammates; Australian swimmer Mack Horton’s protest at the championships over Sun Yang’s doping case; and the likelihood that ASADA’s investigation will mean the swimmer misses next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The ABC went on to cover *deep breath* accusations from former ASADA chief Richard Ings that Swimming Australia tried to cover up Jack’s positive test, including Swimming Australia’s defence that internal drug policies mandate details be kept confidential; Horton’s announcement that the case does not change his feelings on doping in sport post-Sun; and Jack’s secondary statement about the drug itself, a muscle growth substance commonly used to treat osteoporosis, including the intimation that the drug can be found in contaminated supplements.

In an analysis piece, Tracey Holmes also examined Australian hypocrisy on the matter — specifically Australia’s eagerness to condemn Chinese swimmers like Sun, but provide Jack a “fair process”. That line of thought was then picked up at other outlets.

The networks

The Project also ran with the “Aussie hypocrisy” angle last night. In an interview on the show, Richard Ings was again eager to highlight that, while doping rules apply across the board, Australian swimmers and the media are happy to dismiss explanations from Russian or Chinese athletes testing positive, but “if it’s an Australian athlete, the headlines are all heartache and sadness”.

The interview also drilled down into Jack’s primary defence that she did not take the drug knowingly. Ing said it was an argument he’s heard on every anti-doping case he’s ever worked on.

Aussie Hypocrisy

After one of our swimmers took a stand on doping, it turns out we’ve been chucking rocks from inside of a big ol’ glass house. Do you think Australians have double standards when it comes to doping?

Posted by The Project on Sunday, 28 July 2019

Compare and contrast with Today. Channel Nine’s morning show foregrounded that “heartache and sadness” angle with accounts of Jack “falling to her knees” and preparation for Friday’s meeting with ASADA that could lead to everything from a four-month to lifetime ban.

Sunrise similarly ran with Jack’s battle to “clear her name” and investigate how the drugs entered her system. The show also went in hard on a Swimming Australia representative over allegations of a “cover up” in holding the information back for 10 days.

The papers

Conversely, we have The Daily Telegraph declaring Jack’s incident a “day of shame” and highlighting Swimming Australia “blaming” Jack for their delay in going public.

Yesterday’s Courier-Mail went the exact opposite route, highlighting Jack’s defense claim. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian went for a slightly softer version of each, with the former offering Jack looking pensive and “baffled” over the incident, and the latter publishing an explainer on “the muscle drug that sunk Aussie swim star”. likely went the hardest running with multiple critics accusing Swimming Australia of cover ups and unpacking the body’s confidentiality excuse. The website also featured FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu accusing Horton of primarily having “personal issues” with Sun Yang rather than anything to do with doping, while also suggesting Jack isn’t the only swimmer under investigation for doping.

While none of these angles are wholly inaccurate — as the ABC demonstrated, there are at least half-a-dozen relevant arguments to be made — picking headlines means picking one side and running with it. And if it’s not “heartache and sadness” across an Australian tabloid, you’d best believe it’s “crime and punishment”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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