AUSTRALIAN sport has seldom been rocked as it was on Thursday by the release of the Australian Crime Commission's report on drugs in sport,
which revealed the use of new-age performance-enhancing drugs is widespread among today's sports stars.
The ACC's report, which focused primarily on two major sporting codes, also exposed an alarming link between sportsmen, organised crime and the illegal drug trade, which the ACC fears could be exploited to coerce athletes into match-fixing and other criminal activities.
The report, Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport,
was compiled as part of Project Aperio, a 12-month investigation by the ACC, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The AFL's statement
The investigation focused primarily on two new groups of performance-enhancing drugs, peptides and hormones, which provide users with similar benefits to anabolic steroids.
The report's major findings are detailed in the following edited extracts:
GROWTH HORMONE RELEASING PEPTIDES
Growth hormone releasing peptides stimulate release of an increased level of human growth hormone (hGH), which has a history of misuse by athletes and may play an important role in muscle and bone growth. From an anti-doping perspective, the ability to detect peptide use is complex, as these substances are rapidly metabolised.
Peptides are sold either as a transdermal cream or in a solution for injection … [that] clearly states on the label that these substances are "For Research Purposes Only".
PEPTIDE AND HORMONE CONSUMERS
Widespread use of peptides has been identified, or is suspected by the ACC, in a number of professional sporting codes in Australia. Multiple players (in one code) from a number of clubs are suspected of currently using or having previously used peptides.
An instance of team-based doping, orchestrated by some club officials and coaching staff, has also been identified. Officials from one club have been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances, possibly including peptides. The substances were administered at levels which were possibly in breach of WADA anti-doping rules.
SOURCES OF PEPTIDES AND HORMONES
Some medical practitioners have been identified as one of the key conduits through which individuals are obtaining performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs).
The ACC also identified lax and fraudulent prescribing practices by some doctors with links to sporting clubs and anti-ageing clinics.
These practices include writing scripts in false names, providing prescriptions without consulting the patient and prescribing hormones without conducting the necessary blood test normally carried out prior to the prescription of these substances.
Some of these doctors are also implicated in experimenting on players, by providing them with different substances in order to determine the effects on their performance.
Sports scientists and high-performance staff
In Australian football codes, sports scientists have gained increasing influence over decision-making within the clubs. Some of these scientists are playing a critical role in pushing legal and regulatory boundaries in relation to sport supplementation programs and medical treatments given to players.
The ACC has identified specific high-performance staff, sports scientists and coaches within some codes who have condoned and/or orchestrated the administration of prohibited substances and substances not yet approved for human consumption.
In some cases, peptides and other substances were administered to players without them understanding the nature of the substances, and without the knowledge of the team doctor or club medical staff.
ADMINISTRATION OF UNTESTED SUBSTANCES TO ATHLETES
The ACC has identified a range of substances that have limited to no history of use in humans, are not approved for human use, or their use is considered 'off-label'. While these substances are not prohibited by WADA, due to a lack of long-term clinical studies on the use of these substances or their 'off-label' use, their potential impact on the health of players – both short and long-term – is unknown.
It was also identified that some high-performance coaching staff utilised medical staff from outside their respective clubs to administer substances to players. In some cases, the medical staff administering these substances were not communicating with appointed team doctors, nor advising team doctors of the treatments or substances being administered to players. No party appeared to be maintaining comprehensive medical records in relation to treatments being given to players.
In some cases, professional athletes have inadvertently consumed prohibited substances due to supplements being contaminated at the factory which was processing both WADA-prohibited and non-prohibited supplements. In other cases athletes have inadvertently used prohibited substances due to sports supplements containing undeclared ingredients.
ORGANISED CRIME, DRUGS AND SPORT
Organised criminal links
The presence of organised criminal identities and groups in the PIEDs market presents a threat to the integrity of Australian professional sport as a direct consequence of the increased likelihood of criminal identities and groups interacting with professional athletes and the potential exploitation of these relationships for criminal purposes.
Relationships between athletes and organised crime identities can be exploited by criminals to corrupt the athlete. The ACC's 2011 assessment of Threats to the Integrity of Professional Sport in Australia
noted that as the amount of money wagered on sport increases, associations with athletes or other individuals with the ability to influence a sporting contest, or provide inside information, will be increasingly sought after.
ORGANISED CRIMINAL INFILTRATION THROUGH LEGITIMATE BUSINESS
The ACC has identified individuals with extensive criminal associations as being in business partnerships with major Australian sporting codes.
ILLICIT DRUG USE AND CRIMINAL ASSOCIATIONS
Illicit drug use by athletes leaves them particularly vulnerable to exploitation for other criminal purposes, including match fixing and fraud.
The use of illicit substances by athletes is likely to be correlated in some cases with the use of WADA-prohibited substances by those athletes. Some players are allegedly using both PIEDs and illicit drugs.
VULNERABILITY TO INTEGRITY MECHANISMS
Sports scientists can play a critical role in taking training programs and the preparation of athletes to the edge of, and sometimes beyond, what is permitted by WADA.