CANBERRA, Australia • A government investigation has found widespread use of banned drugs in elite Australian sports facilitated by organized crime gangs that may also have led to match fixing and the manipulation of betting markets.
The Australian Crime Commission's yearlong probe identified the use of substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs across a number of sports, Justice Minister Jason Clare said Thursday. Doping has been facilitated by sports scientists, coaches and doctors, while criminal networks have been identified in the distribution of illegal substances, he added.
The findings come amid increased international scrutiny of sports after Lance Armstrong admitted to doping throughout his cycling career and European police said as many as 680 soccer matches may have been the target of attempted fixing. The commission's report ends Australia's reputation as a predominantly drugs-free sporting nation.
"Australian sport has been protected from the major scandals like the Armstrong case, but now it's lost its innocence," Michael Burke, senior lecturer at Victoria University's School of Human Movement, Recreation and Performance, said in an interview. "Every professional sports team in the world is trying to get an edge, so something like this was always bound to eventually happen in Australia."
Legal constraints prevented the identification of any particular sport, team or athlete, though Clare said at a news conference in Canberra that no competition was immune.
As a result of crime gangs providing banned drugs, the commission found that there is increasing evidence of "personal relationships of concern" between athletes and organized criminal identities and groups that may have resulted in match fixing and betting fraud.
"The findings are shocking and will disgust Australian sports fans," Clare told reporters. "It's cheating but it's worse than that, it's cheating with the help of criminals."
Suspected criminal activity has been referred to the relevant law-enforcement agencies including the Australian Federal Police, according to a statement issued by Clare and Australian Sports Minister Kate Lundy. Under new legislation introduced this week, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority will get new powers to conduct a "full and unhindered investigation," Lundy said.
"Based on the report's findings, ASADA will investigate many individuals, across a range of sports," the authority's Chief Executive Aurora Andruska said in a statement. "I cannot say how long it will take, but I can assure everyone that we will be taking the steps necessary to undertake a comprehensive and timely investigation."
Illicit drug use by professional athletes was more prevalent than had been indicated by drug testing programs, the commission said in its report. In some cases, athletes were being administered substances that have not yet been approved for human use, Clare added.
"This isn't a black day for Australian sport, this is the blackest day," former ASADA Chairman Richard Ings said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "This is a big case with potentially lots of athletes involved."
The Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, which represents the common interests of seven sports governing bodies in Australia, said the individual organizations will cooperate with ASADA and law enforcement agencies in a joint-investigation and strengthen their integrity units to deal with doping, betting and ethical issues.
The release of the commission's report comes two days after Australian Football League club Essendon separately referred itself to the league and ASADA because of concerns about supplements given to players as part of a fitness program.
While the chief executives of the nation's cricket, soccer and rugby union bodies said there was no specific evidence in the report relating to their sports, players and teams in the National Rugby League were implicated, CEO Dave Smith said.
"We've worked with the crime commission in the last week or so and information has come forward for NRL specifically that affects more than one player and more than one club," Smith told reporters in Canberra.
AFL Chief Executive Andrew Demetriou said at a later news conference in Melbourne that his sport would boost its integrity unit by hiring more investigators and instigate an audit of every club's use of supplements and treatments.
"We sit here knowing full well that our sport is not immune and is one of two codes in particular with the NRL that needs to do more," Demetriou said. "Today is a wake-up call for everyone."
The Australian Olympic Committee welcomed the new powers compelling athletes, coaches, doctors and officials to cooperate with investigators, saying that the "gloves are now off" in the fight against doping and match fixing.
"We can now start the process of weeding out the cheats and ensuring the integrity of our sporting codes," AOC President John Coates said in a statement.
Baynes reported from Sydney.