Researcher not surprised by sport doping allegations

REVELATIONS organised crime outfits posed a threat to the integrity of Australian sport came as no surprise to Griffith University researcher Dr Ashutosh Misra.

A 12-month Australian Crime Commission investigation into organised crime and drugs in sport found professional sport in Australia was "highly vulnerable to organised criminal infiltration".

The probe found organised crime syndicates were active in supplying some Australian athletes with performance enhancing drugs.

"The increasing links between sports and wagering markets means the issues identified by the ACC ... have major implications for the integrity of sports betting markets," the ACC reports reads.

"Individuals and teams engaged in the use of prohibited substances have an unfair advantage, which can be exploited by persons with inside information."

The investigation also uncovered increasing evidence of concerning personal relationships between professional athletes and organised crime.

Dr Misra, from Griffith's ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, said his research had shown organised crime from across the globe was infiltrating the multi-billion-dollar online betting industry with increasing ease.

In November, Dr Misra and colleagues Professor Jack Anderson, from Queens University, Belfast, and Jason Saunders, from the Queensland Police Service, presented a paper on sports betting at the Interpol Global Academic Experts Meeting for Integrity in Sport in Singapore.

They found more research was needed for effective responses by sport and government agencies to bolster the integrity of sports events and undermine the illicit, online behaviour of criminal syndicates.

"Online betting has taken over from traditional forms of gambling and has increased the ease with which corruption can occur," Dr Misra said.

"From an industry worth $100 million in the mid-1990s, online betting in Australia is expected to reach $3 billion by the end of 2020."

Dr Misra said the only way to combat the betting-led corruption was for the gambling industry, sports authorities and law enforcement agencies to work together.

He warned a combination of cheating and betting based on inside information was a huge threat to modern sport.

The research showed corruption was most rife in football, cricket, horse racing and cycling, with spot-fixing and spread-betting now more popular than match-fixing.

Spot betting offers a gambler odds based on a particular moment or statistic in the game, such as first scorer in football, the run-rate for a certain part of a cricket game or the performance of an individual rider in a leg of a cycling race.

"It's much easier to have a player do something particular at a specific time in a game which need not impact on its overall outcome," Prof Anderson said.

The researchers said they supported the establishment of a new national unit - comprising a diverse body of experts from law enforcement agencies as well as those experienced in sports administration and the betting industry - to oversee sporting integrity.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said the ACC's concerns about the manipulation of betting markets were consistent with the finding of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform that exotic bets may be damaging to the integrity of sport and should not be allowed.

"I share the committee's view and believe exotic bets - also known as spot bets - should be outlawed."

Another anti-gambling MP, independent Senator Nick Xenophon, went one step further and called for an immediate suspension on sports betting until the issues raised in the ACC investigation had been addressed.

The newly-formed Australian Wagering Council, which represents Australia's seven biggest online bookmakers, promised the industry would co-operate with authorities and sporting bodies to stamp out match-fixing in Australia.

AWC CEO Chris Downy seized on the ACC findings to argue for a crackdown on illegal offshore gambling operators and local SP bookmakers.

"For those Australians who like to wager on sporting events it is imperative that any bets be placed with reputable, regulated and legal Australian wagering organisations," Mr Downy said in response to the report.

"Our members have a zero tolerance policy in relation to corruption in sport and we will continue to work collaboratively with sporting bodies and the government to encourage high standards of probity and integrity across all sporting codes to stamp out any potential for corruption and manipulation."

He said the account-based nature of AWC member operations enabled the identification of clients and the nature and extent of their betting activities.

 

EARLIER: A year-long investigation into Australian sport has uncovered disturbing evidence of widespread drug use among professional athletes, instances of match-fixing and strong links with organised crime syndicates.

Home Affairs and Justice Minister Jason Clare said the findings of the Australian Crime Commission's probe were "shocking" and had been referred to law enforcement agencies including the Australian Federal Police and all state and territory police forces.

Four key areas were targeted in the investigation, codenamed Project Aperio:

  • The market for performance and image enhancing drugs(PIEDs);
  • The involvement of organised criminal identities and groups in the distribution of new generation PIEDs;
  • The use of World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited substances by professional athletes in Australia, and;
  • Current threats to the integrity of professional sport in Australia.

The investigation, which was supported by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the Therapeutic Goods Administration, made a number of key findings, including:

  • The identification of widespread use of prohibited substances and illicit drugs in professional sport;
  • The involvement of crime identities and groups in the distribution of PIEDs to athletes and professional sports staff.
  • Increasing evidence of personal relationships "of concern" between professional athletes and organised criminal identities and groups, which may have resulted in match fixing and the manipulation of betting markets.
  • Illicit drug use by professional athletes being more prevalent than official sports drug testing program statistics indicate.

The ACC found the use of prohibited substances, including peptides and hormones, and illicit drugs was being facilitated by sports scientists, high-performance coaches and sports staff.

Disturbingly players in some cases are being administered with substances that have not yet been approved for human use.

"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. Officials from clubs have also been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances," Mr Clare said.

Mr Clare said professional sport in Australia was "vulnerable to infiltration by organised crime".

Sports Minister Kate Lundy said the government this week introduced legislation to strengthen ASADA's powers "to enable the full and unhindered investigation of these issues".

She confirmed she had doubled ASADA's investigative resources to support the new powers.

"In addition, I will be discussing with state and territory sports ministers measures which we can implement to further strengthen the National Integrity of Sport Unit," Senator Lundy said.

ASADA and other regulatory agencies will undertake additional investigations on the basis of the ACC findings.

Senator Lundy issued a warning to sports administrators, medical officers, support staff and athletes that staying silent was no longer an option.

The chiefs of Australia's major professional sports were in Canberra for the release of the report.

In a bid to stamping out doping each sport has committed to:

  • Establishing integrity units to deal with doping, betting and ethical issues within each sport; cooperating with ASADA and law enforcement agencies in a joint investigation; calling on their athletes to come forward, own up and co-operate with investigators to possibly reduce sanctions;
  • Enacting a multi-code policy to share information and implement doping sanctions across codes, and; having zero tolerance for any support staff who are involved in peddling inappropriate substances and assurances that they will not be employed by other codes.

More to come


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