Project Apiero: What you need to know

GLENN JACKSON
Last updated 08:44 08/02/2013
Project Apiero
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GAME-CHANGING: The Government's report on organised crime and drugs in sport.

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The ACC's report into organised crime and drugs in sport has sent shockwaves through the country - and beyond. Glenn Jackson dissects the document's key issues.

THE DOCUMENT

The 47-page report released for our eyes on Thursday is uneasy reading, and hits you in the face early. ''The ACC (Australian Crime Commission) has now identified use of these (performance and image enhancing) substances, which are prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), by professional athletes in a number of sports in Australia,'' it reveals in its sobering overview. ''Widespread use has been identified or is suspected in a number of professional sporting codes.'' It is specific about the what and why, but not yet the who. As much as the report answered many questions, it raised many more. Yet the scale of the allegations, unearthed by the year-long Project Aperio, is still staggering. Drugs, match fixing and organised crime. A line-in-the-sand day for many. Surely no longer a head-in-the-sand day for others.

THE TARGETS

The project, supported by ASADA and the Therapeutic Goods Administration, examined four issues: new generation performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs), the involvement of organised crime in the distribution of PIEDs, the use of banned substances by professional athletes in Australia, and current threats to the integrity of professional sport in the country. Based on the intelligence gathered, investigators considered two major codes in Australia (not defined but easily assumed), while collecting incidental intelligence relating to other sporting codes.

THE CRIME SYNDICATES

Given the involvement of organised crime in the distribution of PIEDs, including peptides and hormones, the ACC also identified ''significant integrity concerns within professional sports in Australia related to the use of prohibited substances by athletes and increasing associations of concern between professional athletes and criminal identities". Crime, it appears, does play. The ACC believes that organised crime will expand its presence in the Australian peptide and hormone market, due to the high demand and profitability. And sports will continue to be targeted; the ACC has ''identified individuals with extensive criminal associations as being in business partnerships with major Australian sporting codes". Illicit drug use by athletes, the report says, leaves them particularly vulnerable to exploitation for match fixing and fraud.

THE ATHLETES

The use of prohibited substances, known and suspected, was described as ''widespread'' in ''a number of professional sporting codes in Australia". ''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,'' it reads. Officials from one club have been identified as having administered a variety of substances ''via injections and intravenous drips ... at levels which were possibly in breach of WADA anti-doping rules''. In some cases, the substances were not yet approved for human use. The report said there was evidence that athletes were ''exploiting loopholes in illicit drug testing programs''. Multiple players (in one code) from a number of clubs are suspected of currently using or having previously used peptides, which could constitute an anti-doping rule violation, while ''an instance of team-based doping, orchestrated by some club officials and coaching staff, has also been identified''. Along with the anabolic effects of peptides, it was found that injured athletes, particularly players from one sporting code, have used peptides to aid the rehabilitation of soft-tissue injuries. The ability to detect peptide use is ''complex'' - the substances, sold as a transdermal cream or in a solution for injection, are rapidly metabolised.

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THE SUPPORT STAFF

The report states as fact that ''some coaches, sports scientists and support staff of elite athletes have orchestrated and/or condoned the use of prohibited substances and/or methods of administration''. So the invisibility cloak around the practices of sports scientists and others will start to be lifted. The role of the sportsmen as guinea pigs was also revealed. ''Some sports scientists and doctors are experimenting on professional sportspersons in an effort to determine if particular substances can improve performance without being detected,'' it reads. The report states that a ''highly organised network of individuals and companies'' was involved in the acquisition and distribution of peptides and hormones, including online suppliers, anti-ageing clinics (some with links to organised crime), medical practitioners, compounding pharmacies, sports scientists and high performance staff, and sports supplement suppliers.

THE FUTURE

The warnings were clear enough, even if the real devil will be in the detail. The report ends by stating that 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 difference, it says, is that the Australian threat is ''current, crosses sporting codes and is evolving''. Yet what we have been given so far remains a summary of the year- long investigation. The classified version, for others' eyes only right now, will further rock sport. But amid the gloom is opportunity. It reads: ''In detailing the nature and extent of this threat to the professional sporting industry and the Australian community, this report provides an important opportunity for government, regulatory bodies and the sporting industry to address these issues head on.''

- Sydney Morning Herald

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