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Monday, May 28, 2007

Drug-Testing Leak 'A Mystery'

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.

*** UPDATE ***

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!

Citations: The Australian, 25/4/2007; ASADA Media Release, 23/5/2007

Word Count: 1176

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Footy Finances Exposed

Getting a handle on the complex financial dealings of the AFL is challenging. Footy is now a huge business involving massive salaries, mind-boggling media deals and alarming commercial transactions. Drawing on a number of public sources, this week we attempt to distill the financial essence of the game in a format even footy fans can understand.

After our research team spent hours poring over various AFL financial reports, individual club statements and a wealth of independent media analyses, we concluded that AFL's business is extremely complex. Money flows in from:

  • media businesses ($200M p.a.) for the right to broadcast games,
  • government subsidies ($55M p.a.) for being real Aussies, Update: Real figure is closer to $33M for 06/07 financial year. It may vary from year to year.
  • gambling businesses ($10M p.a.) for, well, we can't figure it out,
  • sponsorships,
  • ticket sales,
  • club memberships,
  • catering.
This last one is particularly controversial, after Telstra Dome's boss Ian Collins conceded that the half-time pass-out ban was, in part, about protecting caterers' revenue (and hence licensing revenue for the game) on the extraordinarily expensive food on offer.

Rather than try to provide a detailed breakdown of this knotted ball of entwined dealings, we've prepared a chart that picks two ends of the thread and pulls:

So, meat pies cost something like $7 at the footy venues. Cocaine costs around $250 per gram on the street (according to the Australian Institute of Criminology). No one is suggesting that the bulk of the cocaine and other illicit drugs consumed by footballers comes from pie sales. Despite the large number of pies sold each year - plus the gobsmacking mark-ups - most of the AFL revenue comes from media and sponsorship deals. This illustrates just how important it is to the AFL that we sit on our couches and watch ads interspersed with footy.

On the other side of the equation, how much of the AFL's outgoings end up being spent on drugs? As expected the AFL Annual Report (2006) didn't include a breakout for this item. It did indicate that some $133M was spent last year on around 640 players, and average salaries were around $220K. Player income is more than 60% of the AFL's expenses.

It is, of course, extremely difficult to get a robust estimate of the proportion of income the average footballer spends on illicit drugs. As it happens, our researchers could only dig up one data point published by an organisation shielded by defamation lawyers:

It is said that [Ben] Cousins was spending about $3000 a week on drugs from his annual salary of $800,000. (Herald-Sun, 25/3/2007)

In before-tax terms, if the Murdoch press is to be believed, this particular player is allegedly spending $156K per year, out of $800K, yielding a soft estimate of around 20%. Is this likely to be high or low?

On the one hand, this is likely to be too high. Cousins, after all, is in continuing rehabilitation, apparently for his raging ice addiction. As such, he may be spending a disproportionately large amount of his income on drugs.

On the other hand, it may be an underestimate. Cousins is a highly paid AFL footballer - probably in the top 5% of earners - so as a percentage his habit is probably small. Also, his preferred drug is allegedly crystal methamphetamine, typically half the price of cocaine. And let's not forget that while dozens of other players have tested positive for using drugs, Cousins escaped detection. Can we presume, therefore, that Cousins wasn't using drugs at the highest rate? (There are other - more sinister - reasons why some players avoid detection and others don't.) So considering these countervailing arguments, maybe 20% isn't too far off the mark.

Naturally, not all footballers are regular users. It's hard to get a feel for the proportion that are - certainly the AFL drug testing regime is thoroughly discredited and of no help at all. Dale Lewis famously suggested that it was about 75% (before being dismissed and attacked by AFL officials). Lawrence Angwin suggested "five out of the nine in the leadership group" were out on pills the night before he got canned. John Worsfold claimed that eight Eagles admitted to drug use (out of 40 in the squad, that's 20%). Let's split the difference and call it 50%.

If the 20% of income guesstimate is applied across the 50% of user-players, then in ball-park terms, we're talking about 10% of $133M. This is something like $10M per year flowing into the coffers of drug dealers from AFL footballers.

That's a disturbingly large figure. If anyone's got a better estimate for either the proportion of income spent on drugs or the proportion of footballers who regularly use drugs, please run it past a defamation lawyer, get it published and then send us the link. We'll be glad to update this estimate in light of new information.

Ten million bucks a year on drugs? That's a lot of overpriced pies.

*** UPDATE ***

More insight into how the AFL makes its rivers of cash came to light in the past week. It's not all selling overpriced pies - there's many lines of business to exploit, and once again, the AFL isn't shy about taking people to court when it feels its million-dollar interests are threatened.

The AFL is claiming that discount clothing retailer Dimmeys and Forges (famous for its use of tax-dodging former footballer Dipper) is violating the AFL's "intellectual property" (groan) by selling "knock-off" (their words, not mine) shirts in club colours:

A $20 shirt from Dimmeys.
Source: The Age

The equivalent, properly licensed shirt costs around $75. So, want to support your club? Pay a $50 premium to the retailer, who then kicks some back to the AFL, who dole a bit out the club, which then trickles down to the players' salaries, so a portion of that can end up with purveyors of Australia's finest imported cocaine.

Dimmeys, champion of the underdog and the Western suburbs in general, has vowed to fight the case. As Dimmey's Ken Hampson said "The AFL owns trademarks but it doesn't own every bird that exists in Australia. It doesn't own every magpie." Oh Ken. So naive. How much you have to learn about how the AFL does business.

Remember when grannies used to knit scarves in their team colours? Or kids would show up with their faces painted? Once, that was a symbol of belonging. Now it's just forgone revenue and someone has to pay. Do you think the AFL is happy seeing adjacent red, white and black stripes on a little kid's shirt without the $50 AFL imprimatur on it? That's one less player on a seven figure contract. Someone call Amnesty International!

Once the greedy AFL licensing behemoth gets up a head of steam, you can forget about getting within 100m of the 'G in unsanctioned face paint, yet alone wearing an illegal backyard scarf that literally sucks the lifeforce from our struggling clubs. This is the message they will be getting out: "Club spirit? No thanks, we'll just take the cash!"

Does anyone else sometimes wonder if the long-term interests of the game aren't being jeopardised by the short-term needs of administrators forced to justify their own million-dollar salaries?

Citations: Herald-Sun, 25/3/2007

Word Count: 844

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hall Sanctioned For Nightclub Clash

The weekend is not yet over and we've already got our first nightclub footy "incident". This time, it's Richmond's turn to wear the pain and embarrassment of public player misbehaviour.

Injured veteran Ray Hall has been fined and suspended by his club following a "minor altercation" at a Prahran bar. (We wonder if it was the same venue that Alan Didak and Cassie Lane fought in?) Although police intervention was required, the club maintains there were no injuries. As details are not forthcoming, it remains to be seen just how "minor" the clash was. Sometimes, club spin doctors and the victims have divergent views when characterising the severity of player violence.

In the absence of police charges (to date), Hall's punishment consists of a $5,000 fine, a three week suspension (to be imposed once he's match fit) and a requirement to volunteer with homeless and disadvantaged.

We welcome the first two sanctions as being appropriate while we await the outcome of the police inquiry. But that last one is just weird. The chances of any disadvantaged - yet alone homeless - person being in a Prahran night spot of a Thursday evening is zero. What's the link between Hall's actions and his victim or the clientele? If the denizens of Chapel St were the recipients of his munificence, then it would make more sense. Surely homosexuals, teenaged girls in glitter makeup and young men in hoonwagons are the appropriate targets of his restitution efforts.

But what of the broader logic of requiring a player to undertake volunteer community work as punishment? It speaks volumes of how the AFL and its players perceive their high-profile charity work: it's not something to do because you want to help people. Or even to give back to the community that so generously supports you. No, volunteering is a grinding punishment and a means of getting back into the public's good books.

Very cynical stuff, Richmond, that cheapens the efforts those few who are genuinely well-meaning.

*** UPDATE ***

No, it wasn't Boutique - it was Revolver and apparently he was just there to play pool with mates when the fight broke out at about 1:30am. He was interviewed by police two days ago, and there's no further word of any charges. I guess that's it for the investigation.

On another note, seriously, does anyone go to Revolver to play pool at 1:30am? I would think that any physical contact with that venue would render you drug positive for weeks. Are players still tested while out on injury?

Word Count: 436

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