Australia’s anti-doping body said it needs to interview about 150 people from two major sports after a government probe found widespread use of banned drugs facilitated by organized crime gangs.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority said that the scope of its investigation is unprecedented and it won’t identify any clubs or individuals during inquiries. Six National Rugby League teams identified themselves as being named in a Feb. 7 report by the Australian Crime Commission, while Australian Football League club Essendon is also under scrutiny.
“ASADA anticipates interviewing about 150 players, support staff and administrators from two major sporting codes based on current information,” the agency said in a statement. “The investigation is both complex and wide-ranging and will take many months to complete.”
The crime commission’s report said the use of banned substances was widespread across multiple sports, linked organized criminal groups with elite athletes 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.
The 18-team AFL is Australia’s best-attended sport with games attracting about 2.8 million spectators, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The league and the NRL, which is the third-most popular, both signed broadcasting deals worth more than A$1 billion ($1.03 billion) in the past two years and attract sponsors including Toyota Motor Corp., National Australia Bank Ltd. and Telstra Corp.
The crime commission’s 43-page summary of its findings didn’t identify teams, individuals or specific sports, though NRL clubs Manly, Cronulla, Penrith, Canberra, North Queensland and Newcastle were told by league officials three days ago that they were referred to in the report.
North Queensland said it provided ASADA with the information it required from the club today and that its involvement on the issue has concluded. At no time were any allegations made against the Cowboys, the team said in a statement on its website.
“Our club does feel aggrieved that our minor role in this situation was made public,” Cowboys Chief Executive Officer Peter Jourdain said in the statement. “Given the seriousness of this matter, we will explore our legal options regarding this issue at the appropriate time.”
Essendon, which had already asked the AFL and ASADA to investigate supplements given to its players in 2012, is being probed over the suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs, the AFL said four days ago. One player at a second club is under investigation for possible performance-enhancing drug use, the league said, without providing further details.
“What you want in this situation is you want it to be as thorough and exact as possible,” Essendon captain Jobe Watson said in an interview with Fox Sports News today. “However long that takes, it takes. Certainly the priority is for the correct findings to happen.”