Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard called on teams to disclose any use of banned drugs after a government probe found widespread use of illegal substances across several professional sports.
“Come clean,” Gillard said yesterday at a press conference in Queenstown, New Zealand, following annual talks with her counterpart John Key. “For clubs that have had problems, it’s better off to step forward and be very clear about them.”
The Feb. 7 report by the Australian Crime Commission linked organized criminal groups with elite athletes, warned of possible match fixing and said coaches and doctors were party to doping. Constrained by law, the commission didn’t identify teams or individuals, raising concern innocent players and clubs are being tarnished.
The report has rocked Australia, home to almost 23 million people for whom sport is part of the national identity. The Australian Football League is the favorite spectator sport, watched by about 19 percent of men and 13 percent of women, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The National Rugby League is the third-most popular after horse racing.
Gillard, who supports the AFL’s Western Bulldogs, said fans want to know if their clubs have been implicated. The commission’s allegations center on the AFL and NRL, Justice Minister Jason Clare said yesterday in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Essendon Football Club, which had already asked the AFL and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority to investigate supplements given to its players in 2012, is being probed over the suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs, AFL Deputy Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan said yesterday. One player at a second club is under investigation for possible performance-enhancing drug use.
The AFL and NRL were today given permission to inform teams identified in the commission’s report. Once notified, clubs may choose to go public, John Lawler, ACC Chief Executive John Lawler said in an e-mailed statement.
“The Australian Crime Commission cannot name clubs and individuals, as they are protected under Section 60 of the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 which protects the rights of persons against reputational damage and the right to a fair trial,” Lawler said in the statement.
Six NRL teams were named in the commission’s investigation, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported yesterday, without identifying them. Speaking to the ABC, Clare said the AFL and the NRL know the teams that have been implicated. Once the clubs have been informed by their respective leagues, the teams should then make public their involvement, Clare said.
“The veil of suspicion is hanging over all clubs,” he said. “Silence is not going to be the solution. I encourage all clubs that are affected to put their hand up and work with the authorities to make sure that we get this out of the game.”
The findings from the commission’s yearlong probe, which employed phone taps and identified the use of peptides and hormones, coincide with increased scrutiny of sports after Lance Armstrong admitted to doping throughout his cycling career and European police said as many as 680 soccer matches may have been the target of attempted fixing.
With crime gangs providing banned drugs, the commission found there was increasing evidence of personal relationships between athletes and criminal identities and groups that may have resulted in match fixing and betting fraud. In some cases, athletes were being administered substances that haven’t yet been approved for human use, according to Clare.
Clare told the ABC yesterday the involvement of organized criminal groups went beyond the import of illegal substances.
“They’re involved in front companies that run the compound pharmacies to make these drugs,” he said. “They’re involved with working with the doctors who write the scripts for the individual players. They’re also involved with companies that have contracts with major sporting codes as well.”