Australian Sport: Drugs, Match Fixing Linked to Organised Crime

If Australia has a national religion, it is sport in all its forms. The shared obsession is being sorely tested at present. Allegations of illegal drug taking and match-fixing, linked to organised crime, have brought an avalanche of moral outrage and a cascade of clichés online. Will saints become sinners?

Following recent scandals overseas, Australia had its own the ‘darkest day’ in sport on 7 February 2013. It was the release of the Australian Crime Commission report on Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport.

[Warning: cliché alert!]

Mike Pottenger and Ciannon Cazaly pull no punches at The Conversation in their blog post Not fun and games: organised crime and sport:

Australian Crime Commission report

Australian Crime Commission report


The problem is not just a few deceitful and devious players. Though there may be some bad apples, all athletes in elite competitive sport face clear incentives to take performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs).

They are worried that it has wider implications for law enforcement:

…networks and connections established to smuggle PIEDs into the country can be used to traffic other prohibited substances, like hard narcotics or weapons

… [this] involves corrupting or drawing upon already corrupted public officials

In his cartoon A Sporting Chance, Jon Kudelka draws a comparison between the good old days of iconic sports ‘saints’ such as cricketer Don Bradman and the injection culture of today.

A Sporting Chance

A Sporting Chance – Courtesy: Jon Kudelka's blog

Many sports fans have discovered the usefulness of hindsight. Jack the Insider debunks the myth that cheating is ‘not cricket’. It is a traditional expression reflecting the ideas of sportsmanship and fairplay associated with the game. He looks at another cricket hero, English captain Dr. W.G. Grace, whose reputation for cheating is alive more than a century later:

Cheating in sport is as old as sport itself.

… The rewards in professional sport are counted in the millions. In Grace’s day it was simply the business of beating an opponent by hook or by crook. Now sporting clubs in the major football codes are facing the embarrassing and destructive revelations that they may have engaged in criminal conspiracies.

That athletes might cheat should come as no surprise to any sports fan.

The satirical website The Shovel is concerned that more damage is being done to the English language than the national pastime. An AFL (the local football code) club jumped the gun before the release of the ACC report by asking for a review of its use of ‘supplements’. The Shovel poured it on:

Just hours after allegations broke that Essendon players may have been forced to inject performance enhancing drugs into their bodies, it has emerged that many were made to inject clichés into their interviews as well.

…An Essendon spokesperson said the club was taking the allegations seriously and would co-operate with any investigation. “The footy club is going to have a good hard look at the tapes during the week and then we’ll hope to put this behind us, draw a line under it and move forward with playing good, accountable footy”.

Football in all its guises, Rugby League, Rugby Union, Soccer and AFL, has been at the eye of the storm.

Sarah Joseph, human rights lawyer and avid sports tweeter, hit the nail on the head:

‏@profsarahj: I'm sick of hearing how corrupt & doped Australian sport is. Name names! Put up or shut up ACC! Otherwise all are unfairly tarred.

The ACC report has a narrow scope as it looks at only a few sports. Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Pottharst doesn’t want to be judged with the footy players:

‏@kerripottharst: Oh please…. To say this is the blackest day in Australian Sport is crazy! Is “Australian Sport” just Football…

The link is to her Facebook page where there are several supportive comments.

Meanwhile Oz sports fans are biting their nails wondering if their club or favourite players will be entangled in the web of deception. Bek supports teams in two football codes. She is sort of confident that her teams are not guilty:

@BekkieBee: all this talk about drugs in sport I can say with confidence my 2 teams parra & the suns are definitely not & probably not NSW team #enufsaid

[Author’s personal note: My AFL club is St Kilda, ‘the Saints’. We have made an art form over the years out of losing or as we love to cliché it down under ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’. It beggars belief that a crime syndicate might have bribed our team to throw a game.]

Ironically there have been ongoing AFL investigations into tanking [the practice of deliberatiely losing to gain an advantgae in the player draft]. ‏Nick Fairlie wonders about the ethics:

‏@Nickfairlie: What is more repugnant to a sports fan: losing on purpose or cheating to win? #tanking #doping

The strangest part of this saga is probably the suggestion that gambling on sport is getting a bad name. Highly respected blogger Greg Jericho doubtless thinks we need to follow the money:

@GrogsGamut: “Betting fraud a bigger problem than doping: analyst”. Alas I think he might be right –

But that’s another story. We're taking this scandal just one allegation at a time.

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