Aussie sport rocked by review

By Greg Ansley

Revelations have shaken Australia's belief in the nation as a paragon of fair play.

Organised crime is increasingly infiltrating Australian sport, cashing in on massive potential profits through performance-enhancing drugs, match-fixing and manipulation of betting, a year-long investigation revealed yesterday.

The report, by the Australian Crime Commission, said major crime figures had already established business links with sporting codes and saw the relationships as a means of reaching political and business leaders through sports boardrooms.

It also warned of the potential for professional athletes to be corrupted or compromised through their use of drugs such as peptides and hormones, and said crime gangs were targeting "sub-elite" players for long-term grooming.

The report said the use of banned substances was growing rapidly, expanding the market well beyond professionals to club level across many codes.

They were promoted and supplied by sports scientists whose influence on club decision-making was growing, by high-performance coaches and support staff, and by doctors engaged in "lax, fraudulent and unethical prescribing practices", such as prescribing controlled drugs in false names.

Some anti-ageing clinics had also been identified as a key source of pharmaceutical grade drugs for athletes, in some cases without prescription.

The report said some sports scientists were also using professional athletes as guinea pigs, experimenting with new-generation drugs to test their effectiveness and ability to escape detection.

The supply of new drugs, many unknown to anti-doping agencies or unable to be tested for, had already developed into an organised and highly profitable market. These included substances not yet been approved for human use that offered effects similar to anabolic steroids and seen by athletes as undetectable.

The report, which followed the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's discovery of possible links between the use of banned substances and crime groups 18 months ago, has rocked Australia.

Its revelations that sport was riddled with drug use from local clubs to elite athletes, and was linked to organised crime, extended far beyond an acceptance that individual athletes, and possibly a handful of clubs in a limited number of codes, were involved.

It has shaken Australia's belief in the nation as a paragon of fair play.

"The findings are shocking and will disgust Australian sports fans," Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said.

"It's cheating but it's worse than that. It's cheating with the help of criminals."

The response has been immediate. Sports chiefs were alerted in confidential briefings by the Crime Commission this week, and have agreed to a broad range of measures tied to tough new action by governments and police.

The report's findings have been referred to federal, state and territory police, and the federal Government intends accelerating the development of uniform anti-doping laws across the nation.

Further investigations have been launched by regulatory bodies including the Anti-Doping Authority, whose investigative resources have been doubled. The authority will also have its powers extended by new laws compelling "persons of interest" to co-operate.

Major sporting codes have also agreed to establish new integrity units, co-operate fully with joint investigations into doping, urge erring athletes to own up and co-operate, swap information with each other, and enforce zero tolerance for support staff peddling drugs.

The twin aims of the new strategy are to stamp on existing dope use and suppliers, and to choke off the growing threat from organised crime.

The Crime Commission report said the potential profits for crime were enormous: apart from the lucrative distribution and supply of drugs, it could tap into the A$8.82 billion ($10.88 billion) estimated to be generated annually by the nation's sport and recreation industry.

Drugs alone ensured big profits. The market for performance-enhancing drugs was soaring, with record numbers of seizures, detections and arrests and increasing reports by users that they were injecting them. The mark-up on peptides and hormones is reportedly up to 140 per cent.

The report said betting - with growth of up to 13 per cent a year - was also at risk, with increasing evidence of "personal relationships of concern" between professional athletes and organised criminal identities and groups.

This might have resulted in match fixing and the fraudulent manipulation of betting markets, it said.

The threat was not confined to Australian crime groups, with clear parallels between what has been discovered in Australia and the United States Anti-Doping Agency investigation into disgraced Tour de France superstar Lance Armstrong. The report said the case underlined the transnational threat posed by doping to professional sport.

Major syndicates including the Italian mafia and Russian organised criminal groups were already heavily involved in trafficking of sports drugs across Europe. Victorian police said yesterday authorities had identified A-League football as being at major risk of match-fixing, with vast increases in Asian A-League betting pools.

Fixing to score

The Australian Crime Commission found:

* Widespread use of performance-enhancing substances and illicit drugs across many sports, from professional athletes to club players.

* Organised crime has moved into the supply of sports drugs, possibly expanded into match-fixing, and established links with officials and business ties to major codes.

* Sports scientists, coaches, support staff, doctors and pharmacists are involved, sometimes using top athletes as guinea pigs for new drugs not approved for human use.

* Tough new counter-measures are planned, with more resources for the Anti-Doping Authority and powers to compel persons of interest to co-operate, and accelerated nationwide laws.

* Major codes will launch new integrity units, join multi-agency investigations, share information with one another and enforce zero tolerance for drug-peddling support staff.The potential profits for organised crime are enormous. Apart from the lucrative supply of drugs, it could tap into the estimated $10.88 billion generated annually by the nation's sport and recreation industry.

- NZ Herald

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