ASADA has dropped the ball on drugs

What drug was banned and when is now becoming a matter for serious debate. ASADA's role will come under more scrutiny.

The mess in Australian drug administration that I documented yesterday gets worse. (The sports drug debacle falls on ASADA's shoulders, July 17)

It seems that the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) is digging vigorously to get itself out of the hole it created for itself in the peptide/AOD-9604 affair. 

But like anyone in quicksand the more they try and get out of the hole they created, the worse it looks for them. 

So much so that I think that the chief executive of ASADA, Aurora Andruska, should at least consider offering her resignation to the relevant minister. The minister might not accept the resignation offer but that resignation offer is an important part of getting our drug administration out of the hole it has created for itself. 

I must emphasise that I do not believe there was any deliberate deceptive action by ASADA or that it did anything illegal — it just simply wasn’t watching the ball. 

As John Lawler, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Crime Commission pointed out in yesterday’s Business Spectator, his body, the ACC, sought expert advice from ASADA to develop its organised crime and drugs in sports report. This was a vital document for Australia and it was put on the table at the very time that the minister was calling together the chiefs of the various sporting codes.

So what the ACC said in its February 2013 document was of importance to every sporting body in the nation. The advice they got from ASADA was that the peptide AOD-9604 was not prohibited under section S2 of the WADA prohibited list and, in good faith, they stated this (which effectively meant that Essendon players who took the peptide in the previous year, 2012, were clear). Just over 70 days later the world body used the all-embracing drug section S0 to ban AOD-9604.

But ASADA is now telling Fox Footy that they made no reference to the AOD-9604 status under section SO because that was not the question that was asked by ACC.

What an absolute disgrace that ASADA should take such a legalistic view when dealing with the Crime Commission and the nation’s sporting bodies. Drug administrations should be about telling the whole truth not just part of the truth. If ASADA believed that the Crime Commission report was inadvertently misleading Australian sporting bodies by referring to just one section of the act then ASADA should have issued an immediate amending statement.

We are dealing with sporting bodies and major ministerial statements not fine legal points. If I ask drug administrators “is a particular substance banned under a particular section?” I expect anyone with any feeling for the industry to give a full and frank answer –“yes it is OK under that section but not under this”.

What this means is that ASADA’s future interpretation of events as far as the peptide AOD-9604 is concerned are in danger of being seen to be unreliable because ASADA maybe defending their own patch. This unreliability means they are better not to comment on AOD-9604 in their report about the Essendon Football Club. (see footnote). According to various media reports, which I have not attempted to verify, Essendon say that they were advised by ASADA in 2012 that it was permissible to take the peptide AOD-9604. ASADA vigorously deny this statement. Now the ABC say that ASADA in May 2013 told Essendon that taking AOD-9604 was not likely to cause action against the club. I am in no position to adjudicate who is right and who is wrong, but given that ASADA effectively mislead, albeit inadvertently, the Crime Commission (its partner in Australian drug administration) there is every chance it could mislead a football club making an enquiry in either 2012 or 2013.

If I was AFL chief Andrew Demetriou, given that ASADA now has much reduced credibility in AOD-9604 matters, I would consider testing the matter in the courts now.

By waiting until the edge of the finals the risk of a finals-delaying injunction becomes greater, particularly if any 2013 points penalties are related to that particular peptide. And one more point. The Age journalist Caroline Wilson carried a story yesterday attacking James Hird based on information from “sources close to the joint investigation by ASADA and the AFL”.

I can’t believe sources close to ASADA leaked because such leaks from ASADA carry criminal penalties including possible jail. That means it may be AFL people who are leaking information about a coach, which Essendon says is totally wrong. If the AFL people are stooping to such actions to fill the gap caused by the ASADA problems then the sooner the matter gets before the courts the better — the courts are the only people who can sort it out, albeit at a risk to the 2013 finals series.

Footnote: When I commented on this yesterday I made the following disclaimer and I repeat it again today:

I am an Essendon supporter and a social member of the Essendonians. My views are my own and not those of the Essendon Football Club or any other Essendonian. I am ashamed that my club got involved in this mess but I applaud what the chairman did when he discovered what appeared to have happened. My commentary does not excuse what took place but Essendon was not the only body to get it wrong.