DOPING is so rampant in Australian professional sport it has been compared to the discoveries made during the investigation of disgraced United States cyclist Lance Armstrong.
A year-long Australian Crime Commission investigation into drugs in sport uncovered evidence of widespread use, as well as links with organised crime and match-fixing.
"There are clear parallels between what has been discovered in Australia and the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong, which underlines the translational threat posed by doping to professional sport," the conclusion of the report, Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport, reads.
Home Affairs and Justice Minister Jason Clare said the findings would "disgust Australian sports fans" and had been referred to the Australian Federal Police and all state and territory police forces.
Specific details about the clubs, players and sports suspected of doping could not be released for legal reasons.
The major sporting codes were briefed on the findings earlier this week.
Four key areas were targeted in the investigation, codenamed Project Aperio: the market for performance and image enhancing drugs; the involvement of organised criminal identities and groups in the distribution of new generation PIEDs; the use of World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited substances by professional athletes in Australia and current threats to the integrity of professional sport in Australia.
"Multiple athletes from a number of clubs in major Australian sporting codes are suspected of currently using or having previously used peptides, potentially constituting anti-doping rule violations.
"Officials from clubs have also been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances," Mr Clare said.
The ACC found sports scientists, high-performance coaches and sports staff were facilitating the use of banned substances.
Mr Clare said there was even evidence of entire teams doping.
In some cases players were being administered with substances that have not yet been approved for human use.
Perhaps most disturbing were the links unearthed between sport and criminal gangs.
The ACC found organised crime outfits were the primary suppliers of prohibited substances and were exploiting a regulatory loophole whereby they were not committing a crime under Australian law.Mr Clare said links with organised crime left athletes and sporting clubs vulnerable to corruption.
"It's cheating, but it's worse than that, it's cheating with the help of criminals," he said.
"Wherever criminals are involved in influencing players there is the risk they will use that influence over players to fix matches."
Mr Clare confirmed at least one instance of match-fixing was being investigated.
He warned those who were involved in the illegal activity to give themselves up.
"Don't underestimate how much we know, and if you're involved in this, come forward before you get a knock at the door," he said.
He said no sports were immune from the scourge of drugs or corruption. It was a warning echoed by ACC head John Lawler.
He said the threat of organised crime was a worldwide problem and "extraordinarily serious".
"Australia is not immune. Organised crime are about money, by any means, by any route. They'll corrupt, they'll have no respect for rule of law or for individuals' rights or privacy. This is what we're confronting here in the report," Mr Lawler said.
"Organised crime … will go to where this is lucrative profits to be made, low risk, regulatory weakness and they will exploit those vulnerabilities. They will exploit people, they will exploit the players in the codes and corrupt them, seek inside information and ultimately fix matches."
The challenge, he said, was to "harden the environment so they don't get a sustained foothold for the future".
Additional investigations will now be undertaken by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.
Sports Minister Kate Lundy said the government this week introduced legislation to strengthen ASADA's powers "to enable the full and unhindered investigation of these issues".
Senator Lundy confirmed she had doubled ASADA's investigative resources to support the new powers.
She also stressed the importance of each state passing laws to criminalise match-fixing.
New South Wales is the only state to have passed legislation, with Queensland indicating it plans to rely on existing legislation.
Senator Lundy also had a message for those people who were out to "ruin the games that we love".
"The government has a simple message. If you want to cheat, we will catch you. If you want to fix a match, we will catch you," Senator Lundy said.
"And as you can see by the investigations that have taken place that we are well on the way to seeking out and hunting down those that will dope and cheat."
The 12-month Australian Crime Commission investigation, which was supported by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the Therapeutic Goods Administration, made a number of key findings:
- The identification of widespread use of prohibited substances, including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs in professional sport.
- This use has been facilitated by sports scientists, high-performance coaches and sports staff.
- In some cases, players are being administered with substances that have not yet been approved for human use.
- The involvement of crime identities and groups in the distribution of performance and image enhancing drugs to athletes and professional sports staff.
- Increasing evidence of personal relationships "of concern" between professional athletes and organised criminal identities and groups, which may have resulted in match fixing and the manipulation of betting markets.
- Illicit drug use by professional athletes being more prevalent than official sports drug testing program statistics indicate.
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