By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

25 Feb 2013

Illegal drugs are widespread throughout Australian sport and are being facilitated by sports scientists, high-level coaches and sports staff, a 12-month investigation by the Australian Crime Commission has found.

ACC has also found evidence of personal relationships between professional athletes and criminal identities and groups that may have resulted in match-fixing and the fraudulent manipulation of betting markets.

The average Australian may not realise this, but Australian sports is currently a laughing stock in the world of sports. Its reputation has been badly damaged and the concerned authorities have to act swiftly to punish the guilty and steer sports in the right direction in future. They have to do the right thing and also be seen to be doing the right thing. They have to do it to at least keep the next generation of athletes clean and also bring integrity to a corrupt and broken system. They also owe it to the impressionable children of this country who will be the next avid sports fans of the future. Is this beyond the average football clubs and other sports administrators of the country? Time will tell.

Australian sports for a long time have bent the rules and have the motto of ‘win at all costs’. While used on the field in a competitive sense it is quite laudable – but when the win is achieved by hook or by crook then it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. History is littered with umpteen examples of Aussie sporting culture leading to unsporting behaviour – from the infamous underarm ball to 2008 Sydney Test.  Such an extreme need for winning at any cost drove Lance Armstrong, and his teammates to systematically abuse the system by doping for many years. And Ian Thorpe for a long time has been the subject of criticism that his exploits have been fuelled by performance enhancing drugs. There are also rumours that such drugs are widely used in Australian swimming.

Aussie rules football is a sport that not many in the world would care about and there are obvious reasons why it can never be a premiere world sport.  But the Aussies – at least some parts of Australia – live and breathe this manic free-for-all brawl; anything goes as far as one can kick between the poles.  But it is fast and furious and requires a lot of strength and stamina for the athletes who participate.

Such sports which require superhuman brawns are catalysts for substance abuse. These football codes seem to have a very poor moral compass – forever enmeshed with drugs of various kinds, sexual misdemeanours, and penalties for bad behaviour of the many athletes involved.  The football administrations are also very lenient towards such incidents and try very hard to brush everything under the carpet. Three strike policy in dealing with drug usage in Aussie rules is a mindboggling rule which is laughable in this day and age. What is the chance of a drug cheat being caught three times publicly when the sports administrators are actively sweeping such things under the carpet?

On top of all this the massive machinery of endless commentators in all forms of the media and sports administrators make it a thriving web of vested interest all round. Today the Melbourne football club was found not guilty of tanking despite the whole footy fraternity knowing otherwise. But the manager and the coach have been suspended and the Club has been fined $500k – reasonable people have been left speechless and fuming at the action – what is the penalty for if they have been found to be not guilty? They will soon need a high speed electric broom for all the sweeping under the carpet that’s been happening – the manual one is just not fast enough. AFL will struggle with integrity in footy as they seem to live in a cocoon and seem to have their heads well and truly buried in the sand.

And then there is match-fixing and association with criminal activities. Match fixing or at least spot fixing has been going on in Aussie cricket for a long time – remember Lillee & Marsh betting scandal – when they bet against their own team in which they were key members? – and more recently with Mark Waugh and Shane Warne which the ACB tried to brush under the carpet – the broom’s indeed been working overtime all these years!

It is astounding that such evidence based accusation has been levelled against sports in Australia by investigative authorities. Can one expect that sporting bodies will react positively and punish the guilty and try to eradicate drugs and criminal elements that have infiltrated the sport? One can only hope! Or will they just batten down the hatches and hope the storm will blow over?  I have a feeling that months will roll by, with all and sundry providing lip service, and things will be forgotten eventually. An odd someone will be nominated as the scapegoat, like Joe-the-cameraman, and some wrists would be slapped. Nudge, Nudge! Wink, Wink! And everything will be back to normal. Drugs? What drugs? Match fixing? Come on! Such a long time ago, let’s move on.  OK, now can we look at the footy tipping for next week?

If the way they have handled the question of tanking in AFL is any indication, then Australian sports integrity has no hope in hell.


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