Drug use, crime links found in Australian sport

Last updated 13:35 07/02/2013
Kate Lundy
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KATE LUNDY: The Minister of Sport says drug cheats will be found and punished.

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A year-long government investigation has found widespread use of banned drugs in Australian professional sport and links with organised crime.

The Australian Crime Commission released the findings of a 12-month investigation into the integrity of Australian sport and the relationship between professional sporting bodies, prohibited substances and organised crime.

It said the links may have resulted in match-fixing and fraudulent manipulation of betting markets - and it was hopeful criminal charges would be laid.

The key findings of the investigation identified widespread use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs in professional sport.

The probe includes investigations into leagues containing New Zealand teams. The Warriors, Phoenix and Breakers all compete in Australian competitions.

It also extends to international leagues such as Super Rugby and the trans-Tasman netball competition.

It is not known if any New Zealand athletes have been implicated in the findings.

It said that in some cases players were being administered with substances that have not yet been approved for human use.

The ACC also identified organised crime identities and groups that were involved in the distribution of PIEDS (Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs), to athletes and professional sports stars.

The ACC report noted increasing evidence of personal relationships of concern between professional athletes and organised criminal identities and groups.

''The ACC has found that professional sport in Australia is highly vulnerable to infiltration by organised crime. Multiple athletes from a number of clubs in major Australian sporting codes are suspected of currently using or having used peptides,'' Justice Minister Jason Clare said in a statement.

"The findings are shocking and will disgust Australian sports fans," he said.

"It's cheating...but it's worse than that. It's cheating with the help of criminals.'

Clare said one possible case of match-fixing was already under investigation, though he did not identify the sport.

He said that the evidence to date indicates that it is not the majority of athletes who are taking banned substances.

The investigation had also found organised criminals had been involved in the distribution of drugs. "This is particularly serious," he said.

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The report concluded that some coaches, sports scientists and support staff of elite athletes have orchestrated and/or condoned the use of prohibited substances.

Some sports scientists have indicated a willingness to administer substances to elite athletes which are untested or not yet approved for human use.

Sports Minister Kate Lundy said "we must remain vigilant" to fight the challenges to sports integrity.

"If you want to dope and cheat, we will catch you," she said. "If you want to fix a match, we will catch you."

Senator Lundy told reporters in Canberra that the government and Australia's major sports codes were committed to eradicating doping in sport.

She said that professional sports codes had agreed to establish integrity units and would cooperate fully with ASADA and law enforcement agencies in a joint investigation.

She added that they would also call on their athletes who had doped to come forward - "this could possibly reduce their sanctions."

''Today is about the integrity of sport in Australia,'' Lundy said.

Lundy has introduced legislation this week to strengthen ASADA's investigative powers and double its investigative resources.

''If persons of interest refuse to co-operate with ASADA investigations they will be liable for civil penalties,'' she said.

ACC CEO John Lawler said the investigation was "proactive" but noted that organised crime was also serious and pervasive.

"It's an issue that we're all confronting and will continue to confront," he said.

Mr Lawler said the ACC had disseminated a large amount material uncovered from its investigation to state and territory law enforcement bodies.

"We're hopeful that criminal charges will be laid," he said.

The Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPS) has agreed to several measures to assist the crackdown on drugs in sport.

The Coalition represents all the major sporting organisations in Australia, including the AFL, NRL, FFA, ARU and Cricket Australia.

The individual bodies are to:

  • Establish integrity units to deal with doping, betting and ethical issues.
  • Co-operate with ASADA and law enforcement agencies in a joint investigation.
  • Call on their athletes to come forward and own up to wrongdoing and co-operate with investigators to possibly reduce sanctions.
  • Enact a multi-code policy to share information and implement doping sanctions across codes.
  •  Have zero tolerance for any support staff involved in pedalling inappropriate substances and help ensure they are not employed in other codes.

AFL boss Andrew Demetriou said he was shocked by the findings, and said he did not know how many AFL clubs were involved.

He said the AFL's investigation had already begun and that the league was working with ASADA.

NRL chief executive David Smith, who was in Canberra for the report's release, said: "we need to be strong."

Australian Rugby Union said it had set up an integrity office and hired an Australian Federal Police detective to look into drugs in its code. Over 2011 and 2012, it had prosecuted four cases.

Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver called the report a "very timely wake-up call", saying he had been aware of the issue of performance enhancing drugs but less aware of the links to organised crime.

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said his organisation was "as confident as we can be" that there was no match-fixing in the Big Bash.

"We have out own integrity unit that has surveillance activities over all of the Big Bash league matches."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott -  an avid sportsman - told reporters in Queanbeyan that he was dismayed by the revelations about integrity in sport.

''Obviously, I'm dismayed at the revelations today,'' he said.

Abbott said the Coalition would work with the government to deal with the problems.

''We want sport to be clean and fair,'' he said.

When asked if he supported tough, new regulations, Abbott said he would wait to see what the government proposed. ''But in principle, yes,'' he said.

- AAP and Sydney Morning Herald

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