The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority wants to interview 31 National Rugby League players over the next four to six weeks as part of its investigation into alleged drug use in the sport, the NRL said.
NRL Chief Executive Officer Dave Smith said today that clubs were no longer the subject of investigations regarding systematic doping, outside of the probe into practices at the Sydney-based Cronulla Sharks in 2011.
“ASADA has informed the NRL that aside from some well- documented concerns at Cronulla, its clear focus is now on whether individuals -- or groups of individuals -- may have acted outside of club programs,” Smith said at a televised news conference. “This is not about clubs. The fact that ASADA will issue notices of interview does not mean players or officials are being charged.”
ASADA investigators last month met with officials from NRL clubs North Queensland, Penrith, Canberra, Newcastle, Manly and Cronulla after they were mentioned in an Australian Crime Commission report that found common use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs across multiple sports in Australia.
The crime commission’s Feb. 7 report, which followed a yearlong investigation, also linked organized criminal groups with elite athletes, warned of possible match fixing and said coaches and doctors were party to doping. The findings have rocked Australia, home to almost 23 million people for whom sport is part of the national identity.
Until now, anti-doping inquiries have been limited to NRL club officials and coaching staff. Cronulla reacted to the investigations at its club by conducting a management review that led to four members of staff having their contracts terminated, the standing down of head coach Shane Flanagan and the appointment of an interim chief executive on March 8.
The player interviews will take four to six weeks, after which ASADA will inform league officials whether any infraction notices need to be issued for anti-doping violations, the Sydney-based NRL said.
Requests to interview players doesn’t mean that those individuals are under direct suspicion and no player will be stood down until there is sufficient evidence for an infraction notice, Smith said.
“It is the NRL’s strong view that nobody should be prejudged,” he said. “Thirty one players are going to go through an interview. We don’t know the extent of the outcome of those interviews and neither does ASADA. At the end of it we’ll know more facts.”
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