NRL and ASADA: when did this become about unfairness?

I was listening to the Triple M rugby league show with Matthew Johns, among others, On Sunday afternoon and was more than a little irritated by the statement that ASADA’s proposed questioning of players who are alleged to have taken illegal substances was unfair particularly around State of Origin time. I was also irritated by the statement that the ASADA investigation was unfair on the Cronulla Sharks and that that was a reason for their poor start to the season.

This is not the first time I have heard these comments. Indeed from the rugby league I do watch and the commentary about it that I listen to and read it seems to be the prevailing opinion that ASADA has been grossly unfair in its investigation.

Firstly, I am in no way a defender of ASADA or the Crime Commission. I believe that the report issued jointly by them should have come AFTER an investigation into the use of illegal drugs in sport was finalised. This did not happen and now ASADA is investigating.

Secondly, it must be remembered that ASADA is a federal body investigating the illegal use of drugs in sport. If guilty the users will be suspended and, worse, condemned as cheats and worse still a game will be tarnished for years to come. They have not targeted anyone with malice or forthought, rather they are simply doing their jobs.

The stakes are obviously high and equally obviously ASADA needs to get its investigation right. If there is an allegation that is backed by some evidence then it is obvious that ASADA should, and in fact, must investigate. How is that in any way unfair? If the allegations are false then the players and club are cleared. If the allegations are true then, I repeat, the punishment will be severe.

Surely then those espousing the “unfairness” argument surrounding ASADA’s investigation would want them to investigate in their own time to ensure that: a. they get the investigation right; and b. if the club and players are innocent they are able to declare as much. An elongated investigation assists no one and only adds to the rumour and innuendo surrounding the code, the clubs and the players.

Would similar statements of unfairness be making made if the Sharks had have started the season 7-0 rather than 2-5? I am pretty sure the answer to that is no. There is empirical proof to back this: one only has to look at the conduct of the Essendon AFL club who are 5-0 and have been even more publicly embroiled in the drugs in sport controversy and the ASADA investigation. I mean the Bombers coach has been directly and personally implicated for goodness sake and they have continued to win.

I think the NRL and its players should consider themselves very lucky. In other jurisdictions sportsmen are stood down immediately upon an allegation of misuse of a banned substance made with the due process surrounding the investigation taking place AFTER the “ban” starts. The fact that the Sharks (and other teams’ players) are still able to play whilst under investigation should be seen as a postive for the NRL and indicative that they could be in a much worse position then they are now.

I believe that everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty. I equally agree that due process must be followed. The NRL’s “supporters” of the argument that ASADA is being unfair are seeking to change the rules of engagement by publicly arguing that the ongoing investigation is such. This victim mentality must stop because it is not serving anyone; NRL, players, media and ASADA alike well.

In fact I will go one step further: the NRL and its players MUST stop with its campaign to convince us that this investigation is unfair and they are victims in all of this because, simply, it is not and they are not. ASADA has a job to do and they should be allowed to do it without this unnecessary intervention.

The Australian Crime Commission and Sport: why issuing the report now was a mistake

Much has been made of the announcement by the Australian Crime Commission and the Ministers of the Crown for Sport and Justice about the findings of the recent ACC report into links between sport and the criminal underworld. Much has also been written about the report including the expected whispers about who is guilty and who is not guilty of the use of performance enhancers.

The press conference upon the issuing of the report and the portion of the report that has been made public (which, for the record, I have read cover to cover) were, with respect to all involved, replete with allegation and innuendo but lacking in hard evidence and, most importantly for the fans, the names of those “guilty” of using performance enhancing drugs in sport and, more worrying, the fixing of matches.

Now I agree with the legal position taken by the ACC: until the allegations are investigated and charges, be they internal within the sport in question or external before a court of proper jurisdiction, the naming of those alleged to be involved is absolutely wrong and likely to be prejudicial to any prosecution. The problem is though that in my view releasing the report without the same investigations being completed had the potential to, and indeed has, had the same effect.

What we have now is a whispering campaign of whodunit coupled with the codes focused on passing the buck between the themselves without really resolving who actually has contravened the laws of each such code or, more seriously, the relevant Crimes Act of each state. It beggars belief that the ACC and those same ministers of the crown did not think that this would happen. Australian’s love their sport and this was the only possible outcome to the release of a report which is, as I have noted above, scant on real detail and heavy on redacted summation.

I understand that the ACC was hoping that some offenders would come forward and admit their culpability in return for a lighter sentence. Frankly though that just smacks of an investigative body that does not actually have enough evidence now to take steps against the alleged offenders. If they did then the whispers would surely have not been needed to character assassinate whole clubs and codes: they simply could have said “this investigation is complete and here are the results” rather than “we have investigated but there is more investigation needed and we need help”.

For all of the powers of the ACC the impression that one is left with is that it is either a “toothless tiger” incapable of investigating what would seem to be a fairly simple series of allegations OR they were rushed to push out the report. Surely, as I have commented above, it was better to wait until there was something more concrete to actually report.

All in all my summation of things is that this has been handled in a poor fashion and the report was certainly released too soon. The impact of this is that the very risk that the ACC and the ministers sought to avoid, the inability to get a fair trial, is probably already upon us.

One final thought: upon my reading of all of the newspaper reports on this issue it reads like there are players from 7 clubs alleged to have taken PEDs or been involved in the conduct the subject of the investigation. For all of the hand wringing at the press conference, all of the “death of Australian sport” headlines and for of the press does that number seem strikingly low to you? On my count there are 50 professional sports teams across the winter codes and cricket in this country could it be that the bulk of that reporting has been beset with hyperbole? Has the ACC cried wolf and this is not as big a problem as the report would have one believe?

I for one will be watching with interest at the developments in the coming weeks.