NRL Clubs to Meet With Australia Anti-Doping Body

The six National Rugby League clubs named in the Australian Crime Commission’s report into drug use in sports declined to say why they were implicated after meeting with the country’s anti-doping body.

Representatives from Manly, Cronulla, Penrith, Canberra, North Queensland and Newcastle met with Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority officials today in Sydney as a group and individually, the NRL said in a statement.

“In outlining the way forward, it was made clear that the investigation process may take some time and it would not be possible to comment publicly during the investigation,” the teams said in a joint statement issued by the NRL. “The clubs have agreed to fully support ASADA throughout this process.”

The crime commission’s Feb. 7 report, which followed a yearlong investigation, said the use of banned substances was common across multiple sports, 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.

The commission’s 43-page summary of its findings didn’t identify teams, individuals or specific sports, raising concern innocent athletes and clubs are being tarnished and questions about the motives for last week’s announcement, which was fronted by government ministers.

WADA Puzzled

“Whatever is behind it all, we need to know,” World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey was cited as saying in today’s Sydney-based Daily Telegraph. “But to be told it in general terms, and have to wait significant time to see how big the problem is, is something I am simply puzzled by. I do not understand the motive behind that or the strategy.”

Australian Football League club 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 prohibited performance-enhancing drugs, the AFL said two days ago. One player at a second club is under investigation for possible performance-enhancing drug use, the league said, without providing further details.

NRL Chief Executive Officer Dave Smith said earlier today that he advised the six teams last night that they were referred to in the report, adding that he didn’t have permission to give them further details for legal reasons.

After the briefings with ASADA, which is following up the report’s findings to see if anti-doping regulations have been breached, Penrith General Manager Phil Gould said teams now have a greater comprehension of the nature of the investigations.

‘Better Understanding’

“Having sat through this meeting, and later being briefed personally by the ASADA representatives, I have a better understanding of the issues involved,” Gould said in a statement. “I understand the frustration that everyone must feel, with so little detail and explanation available. But, having met with ASADA today, I totally understand the process in place, and the need for confidentiality.”

Following the report’s release, the NRL said it would establish a fully resourced integrity unit, which would be overseen by a former federal court judge.

With the 2013 NRL season starting March 7, Smith said he understood the frustrations of clubs and fans though emphasized that due legal process must be followed.

“The investigations need to run their proper course for all concerned,” Smith said at a news conference in Sydney. “These are very serious matters and we have to make sure it’s properly considered.”