ASADA – from best practice to basket case

Date: May 14, 2014 / Posted by control

It was not that long ago the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority was seen by many as representing world’s best practice in the fight against performance enhancing substances in sport.

It has now become a flagship model for how not to undertake such battles.

With reports doing the rounds that ‘show cause’ letters are imminent with respect to as many as 40 Essendon AFL players and 17 from the NRL’s Cronulla Sharks it has once again brought into sharp focus the glacial investigation by ASADA into two of the major scandals to have hit Australian sport.

On 7 February last year the Ministers for Sport and Home Affairs fronted an explosive media conference, each flanked by the CEO’s of the country’s major sporting codes.

Australian sport was rocked to its foundations by allegations that a 12-month long investigation by the Australian Crime Commission – code-named Project Aperio – had unearthed evidence that organised crime was behind the increasing use of performance enhancing drugs by “multiple athletes” and there were strong beliefs that match fixing and manipulation of sports’ betting markets were also widespread.

Former CEO of ASADA, Richard Ings proclaimed those bombshells to represent “the blackest day in Australian sport”. Fifteen months hence little substance has been presented with respect to those seismic allegations, in fact, they could presently be measured in angstrom units.

The public was told that state and federal law enforcement agencies were pursuing a number of strong leads in regard to the organised crime links. So far, those probes have produced nothing to substantiate the headline grabbing claims from early last year.

Running parallel to the police enquiries has been the ASADA investigation into the use of banned substances.

Safe to say ASADA’s journey to unearth the truth has moved with the speed of molasses down a sand hill. Since announcing investigations into several major areas of concern within the AFL and NRL we have seen the passing of an entire season for both codes and a two-month journey into the next. ASADA’s bite thus far has been akin to a mouse with dentures.

Essendon, joint holder of the AFL’s all-time record of 16 premierships, was denied a tilt at another in 2013 following its removal from the finals series having finished the home-and-away season in seventh spot. At the same time the AFL Commission levied a raft of penalties against the Bombers including a 12-month suspension for coach James Hird, the loss of draft picks and a $2m fine.

Much of the basis for those steps was predicated on an interim report from ASADA with respect to its investigations.

That interim report was released in the first week of August last year. More than nine months hence the final report is yet to reach the printers and it would take a man of greater powers than Nostradamus to proffer a date as to when that may actually occur.

After 60-plus weeks of investigation and interviews just one man to date – Canberra Raiders’ winger Sandor Earl – has been served an infraction notice.

That occurred nine months ago, 48 hours after he allegedly made certain admissions about having used a banned peptide. Incredibly he is still waiting to find out what his specific penalty is.

He is a sportsman currently floating like an Arthurian spirit in the mist having been deregistered by his code yet still not having been told the length of his ban with respect to his infraction notice. It is totally unconscionable that Earl is still awaiting his official fate three-quarters of a year after being handed a provisional suspension by the NRL.

It is the sort of ineptitude that Australians would normally associate with other countries’ handling of doping cases.

We were always regarded as a nation with a rock solid base in the battle against performance enhancing substances but unfortunately the foundations now appear to comprise more talc than granite.

Australian sporting authorities have often cast aspersions on the operations of overseas anti-doping organizations. It is high time that some of them looked into a large mirror and reflected on their efforts in the past 18 months.

If they are honest with themselves they will not like what they see. And neither does the Australian sporting public.

Here’s hoping that the Harlem Globetrotters theme doesn’t become ASADA’s anthem.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 13 May 2014