CANBERRA (Reuters) - The use of performance enhancing drugs is “widespread” among professional and amateur athletes in Australia, a government report which rocked the sports-mad country said on Thursday.
Australia is proud of its reputation as a nation that plays fair and the report’s findings were explosive with one former head of the national anti-doping agency describing it as the “blackest day” in the country’s sporting history.
The report was the result of a one-year probe by Australia’s leading criminal intelligence organisation into the use of drugs, both performance enhancing and recreational, as well as the association of organised crime with the trade.
“The findings are shocking and they will disgust Australian sports fans,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said at a news conference.
”(It) has found the use of substances, including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs, is widespread amongst professional athletes.
”We are talking about multiple athletes across a number of codes. We’re talking about a number of teams.
”The findings indicate the drugs are being facilitated by sports scientists, coaches, support staff as well as doctors and pharmacists.
“In some cases, sports scientists and others are orchestrating the doping of entire teams. In some cases, players are being administered substances which have not yet been approved for human use.”
The report said that organised crime was involved in the distribution of the drugs, which exposes players to the possibility of being co-opted into match-fixing, Clare added.
One such case had been identified and was being investigated, he said, without indicating which code was involved.
The government said it would do all in its power to crack down on the scourge.
“If you want to dope and cheat, we will catch you, if you want to fix a match, we will catch you,” Sports Minister Kate Lundy told reporters.
Lundy said evidence of breaches of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code would be passed on to the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) for further investigation, while the agency’s authority would be reinforced by legislation.
Lundy said the major sports codes would establish “integrity units” to counter doping and match-fixing, would cooperate with police and ASADA on investigations and encourage players breaching rules to own up.
“Our job is to restore integrity in sport. We can never be complacent,” she added. “We must stamp this out. That is our job and that is what we intend to do.”
As well as the two ministers, the heads of all of Australia’s major professional sports were present at the release of the report.
“Australia’s major sports are rock solid behind the government in our determination to tackle this issue,” said Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland, chair of a body representing professional sports.
“As CEOs of our individual sports, we were shocked this week to hear evidence of the risks of the crime world.”
Sutherland said the Australian rules (AFL) and rugby league (NRL) professional governing bodies had “concerns arising out of this report”.
AFL club Essendon this week asked ASADA to investigate supplements administered to their players last season.
National Rugby League chief Dave Smith said the body had investigations underway with the help of a former judge without specifying whether it was about doping, match-fixing or both.
“We’ve worked with the crime commission in the last week or so and information has come forward for NRL specifically that affects more than one player and more than one club,” he said.
The government crackdown was welcomed by Australia Olympic Committee president John Coates, a long-time advocate for a harder line on doping and match-fixing in sport.
“I congratulate the Australian Crime Commission and the Federal Government for the stance they have taken because as far as cheating in sport goes the gloves are now off, we now have the powers to properly investigate doping and match fixing,” he said.
WADA chief John Fahey, a former Australian Minister of Finance, said he was saddened but not surprised by the report’s findings and thought Australia’s reputation was bound to be damaged.
“It does give the message that doping in sport is alive and well,” he told ABC TV. “It hasn’t gone away and we have to renew our efforts and increase our resources.”
Others were less confident of the effectiveness of the concerted efforts.
“There are always going to be people who cheat,” Australia’s Olympic long jump silver medallist Mitchell Watt tweeted.
“I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that I have and will continue to compete against people who take drugs.”
Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by John O'Brien