New NRL boss Dave Smith has assured the public that the overwhelming majority of players are not involved in the probe into drug use and match-fixing - but has vowed to catch those who are.
With Telstra warning it may reconsider its A$150 million sponsorship and new media rights deal with the NRL if any substantial links between players or clubs and organised crime are proved, Smith's first week in the job has proved a baptism of fire.
One of his first tasks after starting work for the Australian Rugby League Commission last Friday was to attend a briefing from the Australian Crime Commission, where the leaders of the country's major sports bodies were asked to sign confidentiality agreements.
Smith would not even confirm whether he knew the names of players and clubs alleged to be involved in the use of prohibited substances or match-fixing, which the ACC claims to have evidence of occurring in an unidentified code on one occasion.
''I couldn't talk about those sorts of things or give any indication whatsoever,'' Smith told Fairfax Media.
However, he said the majority of players should not be tainted by the bombshell dropped at Thursday's press conference in Canberra to announce the wide-ranging investigation by the ACC and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.
''It affects more than one player at more than one club, but the absolute vast majority of our players do a great job,'' Smith said. ''They are great athletes and play a great game of football. We have got a great game, and we mustn't lose sight of that. But at the same time we have been given some information, and we will continue to work it through until we get to the bottom of it.''
It is believed the ACC already has some evidence against some individuals in the game but needs more before charges can be laid, and hopes ASADA and the new NRL integrity unit will assist in doing so.
The ARLC also announced it would:
Audit and establish a register of personnel supplying performance services to players and or NRL clubs;
Sanction any club or player found to have concealed information in relation to a breach of the NRL Anti-Doping Policy;
Require team doctors to review any instance where supplements, substances or other procedures might have been administered without the prior approval of the team doctor, and;
Introduce centralised testing for illicit substances to complement existing club programs.
Even if no players were charged, Smith said the game would be in a stronger position after appointing former Federal Court judge Tony Whitlam QC to head the integrity unit.
''I understand the frustration, I really do. But what we are trying to do is make sure we have got the right resources in place to ensure we can respond not only to these emerging threats that we have seen with peptides but equally what else comes down the track,'' he said.
''Regardless of the outcome of these investigations, we want to take the opportunity to set the game in a better position than it is today, and I think the game, the players and the fans deserve that.''
If the fallout from the investigation is as big as was initially indicated on Thursday, Telstra chief executive David Thodey said the company's sponsorship would be under threat. ''Our brand image is very tightly tied up with those who we sponsor so if there is untoward behaviour that we don't agree with we make our position very clear, so we'll always do that,'' Thodey said.
''We'll need to look at the detail, and make our decision.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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