Australian sport is facing one of its most public and damaging scandals. How Aurora Andruska, the chief executive of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, and her boss, the Federal Sports Minister, now handle the Essendon and Cronulla investigations will set the scene for the integrity of sport here for years to come.
After months of speculation, innuendo and leaks, ASADA has compiled an interim report that has not been released to the public and apparently recommends nothing. Confusion reigns. The Sports Minister, Don Farrell, has the power under the ASADA Act to request relevant information from ASADA and make it public. He and ASADA have said little and now owe the sporting public some answers.
The first is why ASADA issued an interim report without having spoken to the key witness, Stephen Dank, who is central to the investigations and has said publicly he kept lists of which drugs were given to which players. Farrell and ASADA have trumpeted new coercive powers they have had since August 1 to compel Dank and any other witnesses to testify, but apparently haven't used them.
They have also failed to explain why no charges are recommended when there is evidence, including an admission from Essendon captain Jobe Watson that he believed he was given AOD-9604 - a drug banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. It can't be because there has not been a positive test. ASADA is as aware as anyone that the days of relying solely on positive tests are long gone and the ability to use other evidence is now the key. Lance Armstrong is a classic example.
ASADA may well be embarrassed by ambiguous advice given to the Australian Crime Commission about the status of AOD-9604, but embarrassment is also no good reason to avoid laying charges.
The players may well be undeserving of punishment, but this is relevant to determining what penalty should apply, not whether a charge should be laid. It also doesn't explain why those responsible for administering banned drugs to players are not facing charges.
If the answer is that this is only an interim report, why issue an interim report at all? Shouldn't the issue of any charges under the anti-doping code be resolved before any related disciplinary proceedings? The thoroughness of an investigation is measured not by how many witnesses you have spoken to but the extent you have pursued every avenue to get to the bottom of what happened.
The Commonwealth Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, acknowledged the public interest in this matter and stated that a version of the ASADA interim report would be made public. That was more than a week ago.
In the absence of sensible commentary from ASADA or the Sports Minister, the space has been filled with more rumour, speculation and leaks.
It has been said that this whole malaise is not what sport is all about. It should be about fun, kids and setting a good example. And that's exactly why it is crucial that ASADA punishes any wrongdoers and restores public confidence that the integrity of sport will be protected.
Adrian Anderson was AFL general manager of football operations from 2004-2012, which included oversight of the integrity of the game and its drug policies. He is a former partner of Corrs Chambers Westgarth lawyers and now works as a consultant.