Australian sport finds itself today in the biggest maelstrom in its history.

A 12-month investigation by the Australian Crime Commission has blown the lid on widespread drug use and the involvement of organised crime in sport in this country.

The shock waves will no doubt continue to reverberate for many months to come as criminal investigations are launched into various sports, teams and individuals.

Today’s news comes in the shadow of the scandal currently engulfing the Essendon Football Club.

Many have stated that should the supplements that were administered to the club’s players be found to contain banned substances, it will be the biggest scandal to have hit the code in its history.

Well, regardless of the outcome of the Essendon inquiry, we all need to brace ourselves as the ACC investigation tells us that the use of performance-enhancing drugs in this country is rife.

Just last night, I was watching Sports Night on Sky News where the Essendon issue was being debated.

One of the special guests on the panel was Richard Ings, the former head of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA).

When asked about the practices of ASADA he responded by saying that it is an organisation that is a case of world’s best practice.

He is not alone in that belief as ASADA has long been regarded internationally as one of, if not the, leading anti-doping organisations in the world.

And yet today we find that sport in Australia is mired in a drug culture far beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

While institutions like ASADA are at the cutting edge with regard to detection and usage of PEDs, the truth remains that only a small number of athletes are undone as a result of the current testing protocols.

And therein lays the most troubling aspect of the drugs in sport debate.

The ACC report tells us, in cold stark prose, that there are literally hundreds of elite athletes in this country who are flaunting the system.

They are able to blatantly cheat yet do so beneath the radar.

The biggest question that needs to be asked – and answered – is how this can happen?

Australia has one of the most stringent anti-doping protocols and still, according to the ACC report, its success rate in identifying cheats seems miniscule.

Sadly, this latest report merely emphasises the enormous battle that sports administrators face on a daily basis.

Mind you, there are organisations that seem to have done little to unearth the drug problem and culture within their sport – you need go no further than the UCI for an example.

Globally in recent history there have been myriad drug scandals and unfortunately the largest and most systematic of them have been unearthed not through testing but by investigations carried out by the likes of police and customs agencies.

Cycling’s 1998 Festina affair, the BALCO inquiry, cycling’s Spanish-based Operation Puerto, the US Postal affair – all these events sent shockwaves through sport yet none of them were triggered as a result of positive drug tests.

How many times did we hear the likes of Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong trot out the well-worn line, “I have never used drugs”, doing so as a result of relying on their published drug test results.

Despite the best intentions of bodies like ASADA, the ACC report brings home to roost the fact that the drug testing of athletes is only the very tip of the iceberg in the battle to unearth the use of PEDs in sport.

The recent high profile downfalls of otherwise legendary names in international sport have come as a result of criminal investigations, the ACC report may well be the genesis of similar outcomes in Australia.

It is clear that the only way to fight drugs in sport effectively is to up the ante with regard to the powers and penalties that can be afforded the criminal investigators.

The ACC has painted a picture that places the PED market fairly and squarely alongside that of the ‘recreational drug’ rackets.

The attention given to organized crime in the report is perhaps the most alarming and concerning aspect of the document.

The authorities’ ongoing battle against illegal societal drugs has primarily been fought in the hope of unmasking and prosecuting the big wigs – the people who are at the pointy end of the pyramid and are responsible for the rackets that have seen our streets flooded with illegal drugs.

It now appears that the sport is being controlled in a similar fashion when it comes to PEDs.

While there is no denying that bodies like ASADA have a crucial role to play in unearthing drug cheats, two things need to be done if the Federal Government is truly determined to get to the bottom of what now appears to be a truly endemic problem in Australia sport.

Firstly, they must fund ASADA to a far greater level. They must have the financial resources to conduct myriad more random tests outside normal playing and training times.

What many of these athletes are charged with using in the ACC report are readily testable substances.

It is incumbent therefore on the government to give ASADA the funds to be able to go out and strike far more often than its current budget allows.

Secondly, the battle – if it can ever be won – is going to occur as a result of stings and investigations by crime fighting agencies.

The mentality that has long been adopted to fight the barons of the societal drug trade has to be adopted by those wishing to clean up sport.

Today marks a nadir for sport in this country with the release of a report that shows the endemic drug use and involvement of organized crime in a sphere of life that Australians hold so dear.

The report also paints a very bleak picture in the area of match-fixing with claims that organized crime has its tentacles well and truly extended into that facet of sport as well.

For too long we have cast stones beyond our borders.

Today, we stand open to similar actions coming our way from abroad. Sport in this country has been delivered a crushing blow.

We now have to sit back and see how, in concert with crime fighting agencies, it can restore its reputation and recapture the faith of those who are actually the reason they exist – the fans.

Glenn Mitchell
Glenn Mitchell

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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The Crowd Says (87)

  • February 7th 2013 @ 1:25pm
    YaThink said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

    Maybe they also need to take responsibility for a lot of the testing off the clubs? ie Look at Newcastle Knights, Johns & others got away with it for years as they got a heads up from the clubs that they were to be tested? Other organisations have different rules on reporting and action? Maybe if they gave ASADA more money and power & gave them over-all responsibility.

    My thoughts, it should be – Basically any sporting club in this country could not be registered as such, nor receive any tax payer funding & grants unless they signed up fully to ASADA giving them full authority over them? Obviously would only work if ASADA is given more power & money…

    • February 7th 2013 @ 3:18pm
      me, I like football said | February 7th 2013 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

      ASADA are already responsible for the testing of AFL players and I believe other professional leagues/sports

  • Roar Pro

    February 7th 2013 @ 1:26pm
    Jocelyn McLennan said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

    It is the elephant in the room that most involved at high level and even community level sport have known, witnessed and suspected for a long time but always hoped was not the case. Only fear of lawsuits has prevented many from naming names or blowing whistles before now . It has been the hope that the fear of health complications and side effects would have been the deterrant to keep most sportspeople clean. It raises the question of how effective the testing processes have and continue to be. As we have learned from the Lance Armstrong situation, a drug or “process” was nver allowed to be used without first a test avoidance system accompanying it.

    • Roar Rookie

      February 7th 2013 @ 1:52pm
      Stumpy said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

      This is pretty close to the mark.

      The problem is the the testing is miles behind the actual drug taking regimes being used.

      Them saying we will catch you is farcical, the smart cheats will continue cheating undetected.

      There are house hold names in this country that have taken drugs while pointing the finger and calling other countries cheats.
      In all likelihood they are right. Still they are hypocrites and cheats themselves

      As you stated about Johns/Armstrong the sports become reliant on their drawing power and protect them (golden child syndrome), there are US gold medalists who have been treat the same way.

      I could say things that would see me end up in court if I uttered them in public.

      • Roar Pro

        February 7th 2013 @ 2:27pm
        Jocelyn McLennan said | February 7th 2013 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

        I have personally seen the viles of anabolic steriods that were being supplied to a few rouge members of Western Australian ALF team in the boot of the car of the supplier. No use getting me to name the players or the supplier. Players no longer active and nor is the supplier. Was being used by players coming back from long injury lay offs. I was offered steroids myself during my track and field days. It is rife and we know it is rife. Lance Armstrong is not sorry. He is only sorry for getting caught and having ot fess up.

  • February 7th 2013 @ 1:31pm
    Qlder said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

    The disappointing thing with the way this has been handled so far is that because no organisations, teams, or players have been named everyone is guilty, and that’s not fair.
    Instead of being outraged , I will wait and find out some details.

  • Roar Guru

    February 7th 2013 @ 1:36pm
    JGK said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

    “Where to now for sport in this country?”

    The pharmacy apparently.

  • Roar Rookie

    February 7th 2013 @ 1:37pm
    Chris Hardiman said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

    Sport exists for the fans since when? It exists to fill television programming and make money for all kinds of cretinous people. Including all you hacks in the media. Which is why ‘sports’ is in the mess that it’s in.

    • Columnist

      February 7th 2013 @ 1:48pm
      Glenn Mitchell said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

      Chris, if it exists to ‘fill television programming’ I think that would be because the fans want to watch it. Advertisers pay big money to TV networks during those time slots because the audiences are so large. The bottom line is Chris, whether you believe it or not, sport exists because of its fan following. Corporations and businesses only put their money into it because they perceive the huge following will leverage their company. Do you truly believe elite level sport would exist if nobody attended or watched it on TV? I think the answer is pretty straight forwards.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 7th 2013 @ 2:21pm
        Chris Hardiman said | February 7th 2013 @ 2:21pm | ! Report

        Yeah I do believe elite sport would exist without television because it existed long before the invention television. I’ve seen it in history books. The crowds are packed and the fans are all smiling.
        And please answer me this Glenn – Does the staging of the Rugby League Grand Final at night suit fans or channel 9?

        • Columnist

          February 7th 2013 @ 2:31pm
          Glenn Mitchell said | February 7th 2013 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

          Chris, read what I wrote – “would it exist if nobody attended or watched”. The answer is no. If there were no fans either in stadia or glued to TV elite level sport would fail to exist. It is predicated on people following it, either live or at home. The old photos you refer to show large crowds at venues. If they were not there would the sport still have been conducted pre-TV. The answer is no. Would elite sport exist today without fans following it. Again, the answer is no. Without fans elite sport would go the way of the dinosaur. No business would invest money in advertising if there was no one to watch or see their ads. No fans simply means no elite sport.
          And finally, using a pseudonym to accuse someone of being a ‘hack’ I find to be unacceptable.

        • Columnist

          February 7th 2013 @ 2:40pm
          Glenn Mitchell said | February 7th 2013 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

          Yes, the NRL grand final, like the Australian Open finals are played at night. Why? Because the viewing audience is larger which means more dollars for networks through advertising and a greater exposure for the advertisers. It also means the sports concerned receive a higher rights fee. But, in the end, all those decisions are predicated on the fan following. Take away the fans and in the end, none of it matters.

          • Roar Rookie

            February 7th 2013 @ 4:33pm
            Chris Hardiman said | February 7th 2013 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

            Why doesn’t those economics apply to the Aussie Rules GF?
            Because it is a cultural event. And treating it like a TV show would makes less money and less enjoyment for all and sundry today and in the future.
            My name is Chris Hardiman and the traditional sports I grew up with Cricket, Rugby Union & League are going down the toilet and all the Australian Media does is defend it, are in on it, get their egos massaged by hob knobbing with the stars + power brokers or give us the score and tips.

            • Columnist

              February 7th 2013 @ 7:09pm
              Glenn Mitchell said | February 7th 2013 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

              That is the first time Chris that I have ever seen the words ‘Aussie Rules’ and ‘cultural event’ used in the same paragraph. The economics you talk about definitely do apply to the AFL and that is why each broadcaster has lobbied the AFL heavily for a night or twilight grand final at the time of the bidding process. Networks want it as they will have a far greater audience. It is the same reason that Cricket Australia wants day-night Test cricket. The available audience who are home to watch at 2030 is exponentially greater than that available at 1400. Both the network and CA want it and as soon as they develop a suitable ball it will happen immediately.
              I also think in debates such as these it is never beneficial to generalise. Your statement that ‘all’ of the media defends sport and get their egos massaged is a tremendous disservice to the likes of Malcolm Conn, Robert Craddock, Greg Baum, Patrick Smith, Gerard Whateley, Gideon Haigh and many others who repeatedly and assiduously attempt to keep sporting organisations, administrators and competitors honest and accountable. There are a great number of working journalists in this country who do a fine job of highlighting sport’s problems and issues. To simply say ‘all the Australian media’ simply cowtow to sporting bodies is a total misnomer.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 7th 2013 @ 2:41pm
        Chris Hardiman said | February 7th 2013 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

        Ok I’ve re read your comment and you say that sport exists because of fans which is more accurate than your article that says sports exists for the fans.

        • February 8th 2013 @ 11:46pm
          Floyd Calhoun said | February 8th 2013 @ 11:46pm | ! Report

          To Glenn, Aussie Rules & the word ‘cultural event’ don’t fit?! Of course it’s a cultural event! You may have an aversion to it, but that’s of no importance. I think you might be confusing culture with ‘high culture’ perhaps? Not sure where youve gained your interpretation of the word ‘culture’ from, but you might need to look again. As E.P. Thompson was often quoted ; ‘Patrician society, plebeian culture’. Still true today.

  • February 7th 2013 @ 1:48pm
    Professor Rosseforp said | February 7th 2013 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

    Did anyone really believe that Lance Armstrong was the only performance-enhancing athlete around, and that cyclng was the only sport?
    The only shock wave reverberating from these possible revelations would be if anyone out there thought any professional code was “clean”.
    Mark Spitz gave a very interesting interview on ABC radio some time back. He said that every professional athlete has a list of banned substances in his or her sport. The challenge has always been to find something NOT on the list that provides a benefit to that athlete.

    • February 7th 2013 @ 2:04pm
      Moe Green said | February 7th 2013 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

      Exactly. There would be athletes using substances today that the governing bodies and anti-doping agencies have never heard of.

      The agencies will always be one, two, three steps behind.

      Just like how in professional sport these days the best athletes/players follow the best money available, so to do the scientists. The organisations who manufacture the PED’s and masking agents pay their scientists a stack more than the government agencies trying to detect them, thus attracting the best in the business. Morals are left at the door when it comes to science. Always have been, always will be.

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