It was labelled “the blackest day in Australian sport” and has cast aspersions on virtually our entire elite sporting system. I am referring to the recently released report by the Australian Crime Commission entitled “Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport”, which examined the use of performance and image enhancing drugs by professional athletes.
When sporting CEOs were commanded to join Sports Minister Kate Lundy and Justice Minister Jason Clare in front of the press pack, there was a lot of rhetoric but very little detail about the sports ‘crimes’ that have reportedly occurred.
These ‘crimes’ are said to involve a new form of performance enhancing drugs known collectively as peptides and hormones.
Let me be very clear. The use of World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) proscribed substances by athletes is absolutely wrong. It is simply cheating and we don’t need any more cheats involved in sport at any level. However, there is a world of difference between using a banned drug and using a legal supplement that may aid performance.
Despite the enthusiasm of Lundy and Clare to take part in trashing our sporting reputation, there appears to be precious little evidence that the alarmism is warranted.
Firstly, let’s dispel some myths. Simply because a substance is injected doesn’t mean it is banned. There were all sorts of insinuations relating to the injection of vitamins suggesting this was illegal or unethical. It’s not and among athletes it is quite common. From personal experience as a scholarship holder at the Australian Institute of Sport I can confirm it happened there and let me tell you, an occasional B12 shot was a welcome boost.
The ACC report stated that “officials from a club have been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances, possibly including peptides. Moreover, the substances were administered at levels which were possibly in breach of WADA anti-doping rules.”
It is a smear of ‘possibility’. It is also worth noting that not all ‘peptides’ are illegal under world doping rules.
But of course, the purpose of the report, according to ACC CEO John Lawler, was to gather intelligence rather than evidence: “The purpose is to understand the threat, risk and vulnerabilities.” Mr Lawler didn’t explain how casting aspersions over Australia’s entire sporting system, damaging its international reputation and eroding domestic confidence in the actions of our sports stars was in the public interest.
While no specific evidence was forthcoming, it has been the Essendon Football Club who have been in the line of fire amid allegations of widespread doping. However, it has been subsequently reported that “no current Essendon player was examined by the ACC despite the AFL club being the subject of serious doping allegations…”
The man at the centre of Essendon’s supplements regime was scientist Stephen Dank. He has also worked with a number of other professional football clubs. He told the ABC’s 7.30 program about his two interviews with the ACC, saying “They said they didn’t think that I’d done anything wrong.”
Given some of the media coverage it is little wonder that Mr Dank has a defamation claim in the works.
Secondly, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) insists it maintains world’s best practice in respect to drug testing in Australia. It is responsible for testing our professional and Olympic sports. Yet strangely, despite the supposedly widespread, dare I say systematic doping regime the ACC suggest, there have been very few breaches of the code.
Sure, this could be because the cheats are a step ahead of the detectives or it could be that an overwhelming number of our athletes actually do the right thing and work within the rules.
Given the government’s concerns about stopping dopers in their tracks I cannot help but wonder why they cut funding to anti-doping programs in the 2011/12 budget. Having done so, it is a bit rich for them to be grandstanding on allegations for which very little, if any public proof has been offered.
If there is any question about performance it should be directed to those who made such a spectacle of themselves and damaged an inveterate part of Australian culture with a truly amateur performance.