In its quest to suppress the leaking of confidential drug-testing results, the AFL went all the way to the Supreme Court with wall-to-wall QCs and Federal police. But what about the leaking to footy clubs of upcoming "random" drug tests? Just get the agency involved to ask around a bit and bury it quickly, it seems. Here, we examine the double-standards and dubious probity surrounding the The Big Port Adelaide Tip-Off Scandal of 2007.
By way of background, the AFL's drug-testing is, in part, out-sourced to a Federal Government agency, recently re-badged the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA). A caller to an Adelaide sports radio show - dubbed Mr X - warned that Port Adelaide players were about to be targeted for drug testing. While the call didn't go to air, the tip-off was passed on to current AFL players and turned out to be 100% correct.
On the face of it, it looked like someone with inside knowledge of the supposedly confidential and random drug-testing protocol was sufficiently concerned about Port Adelaide players getting caught with drugs in their system that a tip-off was warranted. Mr X is reported as saying "to be forewarned is to be forearmed". The recipient of the tip-off, Radio 5AA sports panelist Russell Ebert is a well-known Port Power former champion and now an official involved with mentoring players. Fellow panelist, Graham Cornes, tipped off his footballer son Chad Cornes, who was selected for testing by ASADA. Chad Cornes concedes he knew in advance he had been selected. Naturally, this triggered an investigation:
ASADA sent an executive to Adelaide to question locally based drug-testers. He will today interview 5AA staff about Saturday morning's tip-off.
It is understood 5AA knows the identity of the caller, but will not give any details to ASADA on ethical grounds.
MR X, the man who told Ebert of the impending drug tests at Alberton, says the ASADA unit that tested Adelaide players in two visits to the Crows' West Lakes base last week let slip it would be at Alberton on Monday. Mr X learned of the leak on Thursday.
THE AFL put all investigations on the Port leak in the hands of ASADA. The league's hands are tied because ASADA, the federal government's testing agency, operates independent of the AFL.
AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson yesterday sought a please-explain from ASADA. (The Australian, 25/4/2007)
So, in contrast to last year's leak allegations involving ASADA, the AFL is happy to leave it in the hands of ASADA to conduct an internal investigation. Last year, of course, saw the spectacular use of Australian Federal Police. This year, it suffices to send an "executive" to sniff around. Why the shift in attitude? Does this mean the AFL is more worried about drug-using players coping flak in the media than running a transparent testing program?
After a prompt investigation - less than a month - the verdict was in. In the media release issued last week, ASADA merely cleared itself of any wrongdoing without offering an account for what transpired:
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) today confirmed that it has concluded its examination of media reports into the alleged disclosure of confidential information on planned testing missions for performance enhancing substances to a third party.
ASADA Chairman Richard Ings said that ASADA has conducted a thorough examination and found no evidence of anyone from ASADA releasing testing mission information to a third party.
“ASADA’s examination involved thoroughly reviewing the evidence and taking statements either directly or indirectly from all concerned individuals and found no evidence that any person in ASADA released confidential information to a third party,” Mr Ings said. (ASADA Media Release, 23/5/2007)
When pressed about how players were told of supposedly secret testing plans some 52 hours in advance, the ASADA spokesman said it remained "a mystery".
The remark explains the presence of this van spotted in the Alberton Oval car park, along with a hippy and a Great Dane.
Mystery: This van may be connected to the ASADA drug-leak investigation
ASADA is saying "we couldn't find any evidence" without telling us just how hard they looked. It seems wholly inadequate to us but there is no further information available. We've been desperately trying to reach Simon Tidy - ASADA media manager - to get more details on the investigation. But he hasn't been taking nor returning calls, at least to us. The Speccy would like to know, amongst things, who did the investigation, what training or experience they have in conducting investigations, what their brief was, which organisations were involved, whether there was oversight from law enforcement or other external agencies, who was spoken to, whether statements provided were written or oral, whether the statements taken were sworn (ie affidavits or statutory declarations), what it means to take statements "indirectly" (is that hearsay?), what report (if any) was made and just what is the official explanation of how this came about.
Logically speaking, either this tip-off was a lucky guess or there was a leak from inside ASADA. This question is not an idle parlour game: this matters. A lot. If it's the latter case, then the investigation necessarily failed, perhaps since it was flawed from inception. How can we judge the relative likelihoods of these competing explanations with such scant information? For Australians to have confidence in our taxpayer funded sports anti-doping agency, we need to know that confidentiality and integrity are not just mission-statement hype. We need to know exactly what steps they took to get to the bottom of this.
For the AFL, it is gross hypocrisy to be so unconcerned by a potential major breech of their drug-testing regime, yet to fight tooth-and-nail for the suppression of players' identities when caught out doing the wrong thing. According to ASADA, Adrian Anderson has "been kept informed throughout the entire process and now considered the matter closed". How very convenient for him.
Coming during a month when the AFL is on the back foot from the Federal Government's attack on their lax drugs policy, the timing couldn't be worse for them. Many people remain puzzled how Ben Cousins kept an alleged $3,000 a week drug habit a secret - despite being tested nine times. The league's piss-weak testing protocol is also under pressure for letting players dodge a drug test if they like. Now, serious questions about the integrity of their ASADA drug-testing are raised and, in effect, left unanswered.
Unless further information about the thoroughness of the investigation comes to light, the AFL and ASADA will be open to accusations that they simply asked around and, with no-one willingly confessing, swept the whole sorry mess under the rug since it was embarrassing to both organisations.
Australian footy fans and taxpayers deserve better.
Now, even Spida Everitt is having a crack at the scandalously poor AFL drug test protocols. This is twice in two weeks that Spida's broken the Cone of Silence surrounding the AFL's tawdry drug secrets. If he keeps this up, he might find himself guest-blogging here!
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