Doping taint still casting shadow over Australian sport

AP, BRISBANE, Australia

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 - Page 19

Another rugby league official quit yesterday amid a widespread investigation into doping in Australia’s two most popular sports, only four days after key personnel from the same National Rugby League club were relieved of their duties over the team’s reported use of performance-enhancing supplements.

Just how many more players and club officials go in the wake of a damning Australian Crime Commission report released five weeks ago could depend on how much the average fan in the sports-loving country is prepared to believe based on often random comments made by administrators, players and media commentators.

The latest to go was Cronulla Sharks chairman Damian Irvine, who said last weekend that some players on the team had been given injections of a substance used on horses to increase muscle strength and endurance.

Irvine resigned yesterday, admitting the stress of the doping allegations had contributed to his ill-advised remarks.

On Friday last week, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan was stood down and four officials, including the team’s trainer and doctor, were fired following reports that up to 14 players had taken peptide-laced supplements in 2011 in violation of World Anti-Doping Agency regulations.

There were reports that the players had been offered reduced, six-month bans if they chose to cooperate with anti-doping authorities or risk getting a two-year ban otherwise, and later that the same players had threatened to sue the club because they were not aware the supplements were illegal.

The Sharks played with a full-strength side to win their first match of the season on an opening weekend clouded by the doping controversy.

The Australian Football League — Australian rules football is the country’s most popular sport — has also been under investigation, at this point to a lesser degree.

While the Essendon Bombers were reported to have players under investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority for the same illegal peptide used by the Sharks — Cronulla and Essendon were reportedly advised by the same sports scientist two years ago — there have been no suspensions or resignations in the football league so far.

On Feb. 7, the country was rocked by the crime commission report showing widespread use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs, and the infiltration of organized criminal groups in the distribution of performance and image-enhancing drugs.

Topping off the sobering news was evidence of at least one potential case of match fixing.

“This is the blackest day in Australian sport,” former anti-doping agency chief Richard Ings said at the time.

Since then, there have not been any player arrests or suspensions, but a day has not passed when doping claims have not been made.