Australian drugs scandal shows money talks in sport

The line from a Rolling Stones classic immediately sprang to mind last week when the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) released its report into the untoward activities and practices being used in sport down under.

Some sportspeople, no matter how high they climb, or how many trophies they win, just "can't get no satisfaction".

When the federal justice minister and the sports minister front a press conference flanked by the heads of the five major sporting organisations in the country - Australian football, rugby league, rugby union, cricket and football - the alarm bells ring.

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Let me stress that at this stage no one player or organisation has been found to have definitively cheated

Even more so when not an inkling of what is about to unfold has been leaked. Solid work indeed.

The desire to beat the game has always been around, it is just that these days the stakes are so much higher.

When you are talking about an industry worth $9bn (£5.89bn) a year in the country where it is being brought into disrepute alone, then there's concern - because whether you are on the side of criminality or fighting it, the one thing that rings true for both sides is that money talks.

Ask yourself this question. How much knowledge do you have now as a sports fan, compared to five years ago, when it comes to talking about performance enhancers? When you think about it, it truly is scary.

I was lucky enough to play professional rugby league and rugby union in both Australia and England. In the late 1990s Creatine Phosphate  was the new legal-based fad as, in simple terms, it allowed you greater levels of energy for a longer period of time.

But where to go from there, how to improve further? It is a rhetorical question but some may well choose to explore it - and that is when the issues arise.

What is also questionable is how seriously the issue was taken. Every pre-season, dope-testing meetings designed to provide information and a detailed list of what was on the banned substance list were held, with the manual usually left sitting on the floor by about half a dozen people.

Sports people don't just use illegal drugs to try and gain an advantage - growing up in Sydney, Australia, there were rumours of rugby league players in the 1980s wearing ice hockey-style shoulder pads to inflict more pain on the opposition.

So when sports science evolved and professionalism took hold, the want to further the individual, team and code in some form or other would only seem a natural progression.

On the present day situation, let me stress that at this stage no one player or organisation has been found to have definitively cheated.

But given that such a fairly lengthy and covert operation was carried out under the noses of everyone involved, it is fair to say there will be a "fall guy" of some description.

The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) investigation in to drug use

The year-long study by the Australian Crime Commission concluded that

  • Doping was facilitated by sports scientists, coaches and medical staff
  • Some illegal drugs were distributed by organised crime syndicates
  • Doping discovered across multiple disciplines

Which gets me to thinking of people's attitude towards sport in general after what has happened with Lance Armstrong and cycling in recent months.

Of course there is also the ongoing case in Spain involving Dr Eufemiano Fuentes and "Operation Puerto", in which a number of athletes from different sports have been implicated.

Is there a growing apathy towards sports stars and sport in general? It is seemingly difficult for a child to even get an autograph from their sporting heroes these days due to security, club policies and the dreaded "intellectual property rights".

Only recently my family and I spent two years back living in Sydney and I have to admit, the amount of advertising surrounding sports gambling was just incredible. Live television events would be flashing up the odds before a match, half-time and during a match - as well as markets for other games over the weekend.

Spread betting is a part of this abomination but that is an argument for another time.

It was saturation to the highest level and off-putting to say the least, with television and betting agencies trying to give it a glamorous look. And when vast sums of money are at stake, then criminality is bound to be lurking not too far away.

The governing bodies do all they can to keep the unholy trinity of drugs, match-fixing and organised crime out of their codes. But in various parts of the world, sport seems to contain at least one, if not all, of these factors.

Then we have those who believe that doping in sport should be legalised, that it would provide everyone with a fair playing field. Surely it would be a fair playing field if people did not dope? I also then would not have to explain to my kids what steroids, peptides, EPO and HGH, among others, are.

At the start of this article I referred to some athletes not being able to get any satisfaction no matter what they achieve - a point illustrated by a case just last year in horse racing.

Two-time Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Damien Oliver was suspended for 10 months after admitting the Australian placed a bet on another horse - called Miss Octopussy - in a separate race in October 2010.

Sadly, this whole illegal drugs saga has all the hallmarks of a Bond movie doesn't it?

And the action may be just as hairy over the coming months if the ACC and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority stand firm and weed out the culprits.