A SADA Day In Australian Sport, There Probably Never Was

August 23, 2014 at 11:11 am Leave a comment

Dedication, commitment, professionalism and passion are the key attributes that have seen Australia respected as a sporting nation around the world. Underpinning that drive has been Australia’s determination to be a leader behind the scenes in areas such as sports science, sports psychology and coaching methods. For such a small country many bigger one marvelled at how we continued to produce so many world class athletes over and over again, as well as world class coaches. Sadly events of the past year have seriously damaged that reputation.

The rest of the world looks at Australian sport with admiration, and it would be fair to say that rarely is a finger of suspicion pointed at Australia or Australian athletes for cheating.

In the past year we have seen two codes of football, two sports that claim to be the biggest sports – apart from cricket – in the nation, damage that reputation, with drawn out performance enhancing drug accusations; To be fair they have been greatly assisted in damaging that reputation by the bumbling way the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) have handled both substantial breaches.  

Mind you dealing with such iconic football codes as National Rugby League (NRL) and the Australian Football League (AFL) was always going to be extremely challenging, as many powerful people, including politicians and media personalities have strong ties with both codes, and that is not mentioning the huge amounts of money being tied up in lucrative television broadcast deals. 

Without question Essendon AFL club, formed in 1871 as a junior club and which has been playing competitively at senior level since 1878 is a big club. The club has won 16 VFL/AFL premierships which, along with Carlton, is the most of any club in the AFL. So ASADA were taking on not only a well established club but one with history on its side. 

The Cronulla- Sutherland Sharks do not have quite such a long history. They were admitted into the New South Wales Rugby League premiership, in 1967. This was at the time the premier rugby league competition, before the Australian Rugby League and the current National Rugby League (NRL) competition. The club has competed in every premiership season since then, sadly despite nearly 50 years of competition they have only appeared in three Grand Finals and never won. They have however won the minor premiership twice, in 1988 and 1999.

The news yesterday that more than a dozen Cronulla players from the Sharks’ 2011 squad had ‘struck a deal’ with ASADA has appalled and disgusted athletes from other sports, especially those who compete in individual events, as they know full well that they would never have received such leniency or been offered the chance to broker such a deal.

ASADA issued a retrospective suspension, agreed to on Friday, that means 10 current NRL players will miss as little as three rounds of the current season despite having to make admissions about their role in the club’s supplements program three years ago. So three games for admitting taking performance enhancing drugs that were on the banned substance list. Not much of a price to pay for breaking the rules and cheating. That is bound to deter others. 

Let us remind people that former Socceroo Stan Lazaridis had to suffer a year out of the game at the end of his career for testing positive for anti-androgen Finasteride, a prescription drug he was taking for alopecia. To be fair to ASADA hIs ban was also backdated to the time he tested positive. However although the drug was banned at the time and has since been removed from the banned substance list, it had no performance enhancing capabilities; however it had been used in some cases as a masking agent. Why was he not afforded a similar such ban?

Not surprisingly Olympic Athletes have been quick to come out and slam the ‘agreement.’ 

Swimmer Melanie Schlanger resorted to Twitter first stating “A backdated 12 month ban for taking a banned substance?! Players to miss only a few games?! I feel sad for sport today,” In a later Tweet she made the point that every athlete who competes at the highest level is well aware of, “I trust no one. I am well aware that I alone am responsible for everything I put in my body. Know that since I was 14.”

Weightlifter Damon Kelly, is quoted as saying “I doubt that any Olympic sport would get that leniency, I’ve been getting drug tested for 16 years. We’re always told and educated that what you put in your body is your responsibility. It seems like they operate on a set of different expectations and rules.”

It certainly does. Every single athlete with aspirations to play professionally or at the highest level is told they are responsible for  what they take and that they must check. They are even told to keep the 24hour number in their wallets so they can call and check. So there is absolutely no excuse.  

Had such wide scale doping in a club taken part in football in Europe the chances are that no matter how big the club, they would have been relegated from top flight competition. We have seen this with Italian giants Juventus and Glasgow Rangers, although for very different reasons. 

Australia does not have the luxury of a any two tier sporting competition, so no offending team can be relegated. The only option therefore is to expel them from the league. 

In these two codes of football people will tell you that these two clubs are an intrinsic part of the community, Therefore to expel them would do untold damage to that region. This is a weak argument, as if they were so intrinsic to the community, should they not conduct themselves in a way that brings pride, and not shame to that community? Again looking to Europe, every year a team drops out of the English Football League, because they came bottom of the 92 clubs. Every year a community mourns the fact. Yet the clubs survive and many fight their way back a few years later.

There is no doubt pressure from above has been brought to bear on ASADA.What is unforgivable is that they have bowed to that pressure. There is no doubt that the people at the top of both the NRL and the AFL were also not prepared to make decisions that needed to be made, and that was that both teams in each code should have been expelled. They have all left the door open to more abuse in the future rather than drawing a line in the sand that no one must cross.

All, ASDA, the AFL, the NRL, Essendon and Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks have sullied the name of Australian sport and its clean reputation globally. The punishments have made the country a laughing stock and now raise unwanted questions of leniency.

ASADA is finished in Australia. It needs to be shut down by the World Anti Doping Association (WADA) and a new entity led by people with strong backbones as well as moral fibre created. In fact WADA needs to review all of its satellite operations as very few are operating to the levels that sports fans expect. Let us not forget that many questions have been raised in the past year about the United States body. 

When you have a dual Olympian and Commonwealth Games Gold medallist in Benn Harradine tweeting “Is it possible to refuse a test from asada on the grounds of incompetence. I am concerned about their professionalism.” It is clear that this ‘deal’ has eroded all faith in ASADA, and its future is limited. 

It has been a very sad day for Australian sport, very sad indeed, and one that will change the way the world views us from hereon in. 

 

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