Connect with Us:  

Australia Rocked By GDR-Style Crime

Feb 7, 2013  - Craig Lord


Australia has been rocked by a doping scandal that has overtones of the GDR about it, in so far as athletes having taken substances never tested for human consumption. An explosive crime commission report highlights a network of doping in a system of cheating facilitated by sports scientists, elite coaches and other staff in professional sports.

After 12 months of investigations, the Australian Crime Commission report concluded that organised crime cartels are at work, with match-fixing and fraudulent manipulation of betting markets thought to be part of the culture of professional sport Down Under. Whole teams have been doped, the report suggests, the scale of the crisis drawing parallels with the Lance Armstrong and team cheating in cycling. 

There is no suggestion that the scandal stretches to the realm of Olympic sports in Australia. Nonetheless, those who govern anti-doping in Olympic sports entered the fray immediately.

John Fahey, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), described the findings as alarming but not beyond expectation: "I'm not surprised," he told ABC television. "It seems to be history in sport that you'll address these issues only when something surfaces and you'll try to avoid it until that time. That was the case in the Olympic movement with doping. It's the case in cycling, we've seen so much of in recent times. Now sadly it's the case it seems here in Australia."

The ACC findings would tarnish Australia's reputation as a nation that valued sportsmanship and fair play, said Fahey. he urged a tough response.

This is how it is all going down Down Under. More than 100 cases of alleged criminality against individuals and teams are said to have been handed over to prosecution authorities.

"The organisations themselves have to ask a lot of these questions of themselves," said Fahey with a nod to federation bosses. "If you've got a culture within any organisation that believes it may have a problem but does nothing about it or doesn't wish to unearth it you can cover it up.''

Yet again, Fahey noted, the work of ASADA, while worthy, simply did not catch high-level and widespread cheating. In a world that points to "no positive test" every time aberration is noted in world-class performance at the highest level and on the biggest of occasions, a vote of no confidence in any such claim is winning the day. Clean athletes find themselves no longer protected by a system that once lent support to their status as "the real deal".

Fahey acknowledged that analytical testing, such as taking blood and urine samples, was limited as a method to catch drug drug cheats.Non-analytical methods, such as the investigation which brought Lance Armstrong down, was a "far more intelligent approach to catching people." That approach requires a switch in culture within federations: you cannot conduct such inquiries unless you believe people are cheating in the way that a forensic scientist approaches a case of suspicious death understanding that where there is a victim there is likely to be a murderer with a motive. 

Australian Justice Minister Jason Clare encouraged any involved in the doping system uncovered by the ACC to come forward "before you get a knock at the door … The findings are shocking and will disgust Australian sports fans. It's cheating but it's worse than that. It's cheating with the help of criminals."

Cheating in sport, Olympic sports and swimming included, often does include people prepared to break the law, the involvement of "criminals", organised or otherwise, hardly a surprise. The China crisis of the 1990s in swimming involved criminal abuse of under-age swimmers; the GDR's State Plan 14:25 involved state criminality under which government ministers and officials were directly involved in the administering to under-age athletes of steroids and substances that had never been tested on lab rats, had never undergone clinical tests. Teenage girls from stream C in the pool were the guinea pigs for those deemed built for stream A and the Olympic podium in the Sporting Crime of the 20th Century, one that fed directly into China's woes in the 1990s.

As the rubble from the Berlin Wall was being swept up in the early 1990s, Australian government permission was given for the Australian Institute of Sport to invite Dr Helga Pfeifer and others directly involved in the GDR's doping regime to speak to the sports community Down Under about the talent ID, development and training aspects of the programme that gave us the generations of swimmers from Kornelia Ender to Kristin Otto.

Permission was sought - by leaders in swimming - to bring Pfeifer, who confessed to this author of her involvement in doping 16 years after the fall of the Wall, to Australia because of the sensitivity of "doing business" with those highly suspected (at the time) of having orchestrated a systematic programme of cheating. All the more woeful then to find, just 20 years on, that professional sport in Australia may also have fallen foul to a different form of organised crime.

Minister Clare explained the extent of deception Down Under: "The work has found the use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones is widespread. The evidence to date is not the majority but we’re talking multiple athletes across a number of 'codes'. In some cases players are being administered with drugs that have not yet been approved for human use."

No specific sports or individuals have been cited, as yet, the reason: criminal prosecutions likely to follow ought not to be prejudiced. The result of further inquiries and criminal cases brought will reveal the extent of any cross links between sports, a flow of coaches, scientists, administrators and others a part of the business of sport.

The ripples of the ACC report started to roll immediately: the National Rugby League (NRL) has hired private investigators to look into Manly's records of "supplement purchases". In focus are sports scientists, biochemists,coaches and others connected to clubs now accused of overseeing a regime in which players were injected with substances against their will. 

Telstra, former swimming sponsor and current NRL, says that it may reconsider its financial support for Australian sport. The group had withdrawn from swimming on other grounds long before the ACC report broke, while there is no suggestion that swimming is a part of the biggest headline in Australia today.

Chief executive David Thodey said: "Our brand image is very tightly tied up with those who we sponsor so if there is untoward behaviour that we don't agree with we make our position very clear, so we'll always do that."

The ACC report states: "If left unchecked, it is likely that organised criminals will increase their presence in the distribution of peptides and hormones in Australia." Clare, the minister who released the report, said: "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. Official from clubs have also been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances." 

Federal sports minister Kate Lundy hinted at a tough offensive to come, saying: "Today is about the integrity of sport in Australia. "If you want to dope and cheat, we will catch you. If you want to fix a match, we will catch you. 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 who will dope and cheat."

ASADA and other authorities have started to investigate the findings. Lundy is bolstering ASADA's powers this week. She said: "If persons of interest refuse to cooperate with ASADA investigations they will be liable for civil penalties."

All federations and others linked to the sports in focus have been instructed to follow this code:

  • Establish integrity units to deal with doping, betting and ethics
  • Cooperate with ASADA and other authorities;
  • Athletes to come forward and confess to wrongdoing in return for sanction reduction;
  • Launch a 'multi-code policy' to share information and implement doping sanctions
  • Zero tolerance for any support staff involved in pedalling PEDs and band them from future work in sport

The news from Australia comes in the week that authorities revealed a vast match-fixing scandal in football in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Given that organised crime rarely restricts itself to one country, events Down Under will doubtless be of interest to anti-doping authorities around the world. The question obvious: could all of the above be happening elsewhere?