07 February 2013


The Australian Crime Commission, going for headlines by tacking a soft target, has released a 43 page report [PDF] on Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport: New Generation Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs and Organised Criminal Involvement in their use in Professional Sport.

Highlights from the report - which like past ACC publications seem to be designed for headlines rather than analysis - are as follows.
The Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs (PIED) Market 
The PIEDs market in Australia is large and diverse, with a wide range of substances being used by a broad cross-section of the community. 
PIEDs previously considered to only be available to elite athletes and used in sophisticated sports doping programs due to the expense and complexity of their administration, are now widely available. A highly profitable and organised market has been established around the sourcing and supply of new generation PIEDs. 
The growth hormone releasing peptide (herein referred to as ‘peptides’), hormone and anabolic steroid markets are assessed by the ACC to be one and the same, with individuals trafficking anabolic steroids also distributing peptides and hormones. 
The Role of Organized Crime 
Organised criminal identities and groups are active in the trafficking of PIEDs that are being used by elite athletes in Australia. Organised crime groups are taking advantage of the current legislative and regulatory situation whereby persons and entities who supply certain substances to athletes which are prohibited under the WADA Code do not commit a crime in Australian jurisdictions. however, athletes who use the substances face substantial sporting bans. This is a significant legislative and regulatory vulnerability. 
Professional sport in Australia is highly vulnerable to organised criminal infiltration through legitimate business relationships with sports franchises and other associations. This is facilitated by a lack of appropriate levels of due diligence by sporting clubs and sports governing bodies when entering into business arrangements. 
There is also increasing evidence of personal relationships of concern between professional athletes and organised criminal identities and groups. 
The ACC has identified widespread use of peptides and hormones by professional athletes in Australia. Given that many of these substances are prohibited for use by athletes by WADA, athletes who use these substances have potentially committed anti-doping rule violations. 
While intelligence confirms the use of peptides in major sporting codes, it further suggests that individuals in a range of other codes may also be using peptides. 
Multiple players across some sporting codes and specific clubs within those codes are suspected of currently using or having previously used peptides, which could constitute an anti-doping rule violation. The level of suspected use of peptides varies between some sporting codes, however officials from a club have been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances, possibly including peptides. Moreover, the substances were administered at levels which were possibly in breach of WADA anti-doping rules. 
The use of peptides and hormones is linked to a culture in some professional sports in Australia of administering untested and experimental substances to athletes in the hope they will provide an advantage in the highly competitive world of professional sport. In some instances, the substances are not yet approved for human use. 
In addition to elite athletes using peptides and hormones, these substances are also being used by sub-elite athletes competing at various levels of competition, for example at the state and club level. Illicit drug use by professional athletes is more prevalent than is reflected in official sports drug testing program statistics, and there is evidence that some professional athletes are exploiting loopholes in illicit drug testing programs. 
The Role of Sports Scientists, Coaches and other Facilitators 
Some coaches, sports scientists and support staff of elite athletes have orchestrated and/ or condoned the use of prohibited substances and/or methods of administration. 
Sports scientists are now influential in professional sport in Australia, with some of these individuals prepared to administer substances to elite athletes which are untested or not yet approved for human use. 
In many Australian sporting codes, sports scientists have gained increasing influence over decision making within the clubs. Some sports scientists and doctors are experimenting on professional sportspersons in an effort to determine if particular substances can improve performance without being detected. 
Complicit medical practitioners are a key conduit through which peptides and hormones are being supplied to athletes and other individuals on prescription. In some cases, medical practitioners who are prescribing peptides, hormones and other PIEDs are engaging in lax, fraudulent and unethical prescribing practices, such as prescribing controlled drugs in false names. 
Some anti-ageing clinics have been identified as a key source of supply of pharmaceutical grade WADA prohibited PIEDs to athletes, in some cases without prescription.
Overall the report is disappointing but sure to be embraced by the mass media in Australia. There is anecdote rather than substantive analysis, few statistics, little guidance for serious readers about prevalence and incidence and seriousness.

In contrast to some sports fans, publicists and administrators (who like Captain Renault in Casablanca are shocked, shocked to discover that there is misbehaviour) I have no reason to doubt that some athletes - especially those in particular sports - are using a range of performance enhancers. There is enough case law to demonstrate that there is consumption. We should however expect more bite from the ACC is it wants to be taken seriously outside the halls of Parliament House and the Attorney-General's Department or the offices of its associate agency the Australian Federal Policy. The report resembles the much hyped reports on identity crime questioned in entries elsewhere on this blog. Colourful imagery but very few facts.