“The blackest day in Australian sport.” That’s the response of former head of the Australian Anti Doping Agency, Richard Ings, to a report published by the Australian Crime Commission which found that doping was rife among the country’s athletes in a number of sports, encouraged and even facilitated by their coaches and others, and in many cases being supplied by organised crime networks. Meanwhile, as the Operacion Puerto trial continues, tennis player Rafa Nadal says it is damaging the country's sporting image.
In a country that more than most wears its sporting success as a badge of national honour, the damning report has left many Australians in shock and sporting bodies facing some uncomfortable questions. It’s also left ASADA with a caseload that will stretch its resources to the limit as it starts the task of examining allegations against individuals and even entire teams.
Worryingly, the report says that it provides merely “a snapshot” of doping in sport and the involvement in it of organised crime, and that “the use of WADA prohibited substances is more widespread than identified” in it.
For legal reasons, the report itself does not identify individual clubs or athletes, although it adds that “Particular sporting bodies have received classified briefings on matters relevant to them.”
The report goes on to outline a variety of banned substances in widespread use including peptides and hormones, and also acknowledges that doping is not confined to the top levels of sport, with “sub-elite athletes” also identified as being common users of performance enhancing drugs.
Rugby league and Australian rules football are among the sports reportedly under scrutiny, and earlier this week ASADA announced it was investigating one of the leading clubs in the latter sport, Essendon, regarding supplements administered to its players that are said to include peptides.
In an announcement today made jointly by Jason Clare, Minister for Home Affairs and Culture, and Kate Lundy, Minister for Sport, the government committed itself, along with the country’s major professional sporting bodies, to implement “tough new measures to crack down on the use of performance enhancing drugs and unethical behaviour in sport.”
Mr Clare said: “The Australian Crime Commission has found that professional sport in Australia is highly vulnerable to infiltration by organised crime.
“Multiple athletes from a number of clubs in major Australian sporting codes are suspected of currently using or having previously used peptides, potentially constituting anti-doping rule violations.
“Officials from clubs have also been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances.”
Today’s report is the culmination of a 12-month investigation, codenamed Operation Aperio, carried out at a time when Cycling Australia has also had to deal with the fallout from the Lance Armstrong scandal.
That has included Matt White, sports director at Orica-GreenEdge and head of the men’s elite road programme, and Stephen Hodge, the governing body’s vice president, both departing after admitting doping during their racing careers.
Cycling, and specifically Lance Armstrong’s relationship with the banned doctor Michele Ferrari, are mentioned in the ACC’s report, singled out as an example of the type of sophisticated doping programme orchestrated by sports scientists and medical professionals that has been identified as a major concern.
“As professional sports become increasingly complex and reliant on sports scientists and other individuals with specialist skill sets,” the report says, “these individuals will pose a threat to the integrity of professional sport in Australia.”
According to a press release issued today issued jointly by Mr Clare and Senator Lundy,
The investigation identified widespread use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs in professional sport.
It also found that this use has been facilitated by sports scientists, high-performance coaches and sports staff.
In some cases, players are being administered with substances that have not yet been approved for human use.
The ACC also identified organised crime identities and groups that are involved in the distribution of PIEDs to athletes and professional sports staff.
The ACC report notes increasing evidence of personal relationships of concern between professional athletes and organised criminal identities and groups. This may have resulted in match fixing and the fraudulent manipulation of betting markets.
Senator Lundy said that all Australia’s major sports had undertaken to working with the government, ASADA and law enforcement authorities to restore public confidence in sport in the wake of today’s revelations.
“This week the Government introduced legislation to strengthen ASADA’s powers to enable the full and unhindered investigation of these issues,” she said.
“If persons of interest refuse to cooperate with ASADA investigations they will be liable for civil penalties.
“To support these new powers I have doubled the investigative resources at ASADA to ensure athletes and support staff who are involved in unethical behaviour will be scrutinised.
“In addition, I will be discussing with State and Territory Sports Minister’s measures which we can implement to further strengthen the National Integrity of Sport Unit.”
Major professional sports in Australia have pledged to:
• Establish integrity units to deal with doping, betting and ethical issues within each sport
• Cooperate fully with ASADA and law enforcement agencies in a joint investigation
• Call on their athletes to come forward, own up and co-operate with investigators to possibly reduce sanctions
• Enact a multi-code policy to share information and implement doping sanctions across codes; and
• Have zero tolerance for any support staff who are involved in peddling inappropriate substances and assurances that they will not be employed by other codes.
The ACC report comes as Spain’s national anti-doping agency says it will launch an investigation into the football club Real Sociedad, which plays in the Basque city of San Sebastian, after its former president claimed that players were given banned drugs between 2001 and 2007, prior to his term of office.
The allegations coincide with the trial in Madrid of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes and others said to be involved in the Operacion Puerto doping ring on public health charges.
Last week, Fuentes offered to name athletes with whom he has worked – WADA has urged that it be provided with such a list – but the judge presiding over the case declined his offer.
While cyclists were the focus of investigations when the Operacion Puerto scandal broke in 2006, Fuentes has insisted that they only accounted for three in ten of his clients and that he worked with athletes including footballers and tennis players.
Today, in an interview with French newspaper L’Equipe, 11 Grand Slam title-winning Rafa Nadal said that Fuentes should be allowed to name his clients and that he felt that the reputation of Spanish sport was suffering as a result of the trial and rumours of who might be involved, pointing out that foreigners were known to be among the doctor’s clients.
While a number of Spanish cyclists including Alberto Contador were investigated by the country’s authorities for alleged links to Operacion Puerto, none was ever sanctioned. Foreign riders including Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi have however received bans for their dealings with Fuentes.
Action against Spain's Alejandro Valverde, who served a two year ban after his DNA was found to match blood in a bag seized from Fuentes, was originally taken by the Italian Olympic Committee, with his ban extended worldwide after WADA and the UCI appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.