How the reputation of Australian sport was needlessly trashed
The reputation of Australian sport, both domestically and internationally, has been comprehensively trashed. Players, coaches, administrators and health professionals are all lumped under a dark cloud. One can only hope there is some as-yet-unidentified imperative that demanded such a comprehensive do-over of just about everybody involved in sport.
Drugs in sport is a topical issue and a sure bet for media interest. The Australian Crime Commission report would have received widespread media coverage in any event. Just the mention of drugs in sport or organised crime would have done that. Link the two and there's a certain story.
Organising a press conference with two federal ministers and a bevy of senior sports people added drama and the sense of an emergency. That ensured the coverage would be dramatic and sensational. Stirring the media up in this instance was like taking candy from a baby. Both ministers knew that.
The Crime Commission is apparently hamstrung in terms of being able to release names of players or clubs. Both ministers - Sport Minister Kate Lundy and Justice Minister Jason Clare - knew that, too. They understood that everyone was going to be tarred. People in sport were left with this damaging story running wild and unable to clear their names. The ministers must also have known the story would whip around the world, leaving all our sports people and our national reputation tarnished. The word reckless comes to mind.
Why then did they act in a way that magnified the damage to morale and reputations, rather than mitigate it? Why didn't they have information to hand that would at least put a realistic perspective on the story? For example, if it is correct that in the AFL there is one club and one player from one other club realistically under a cloud, then why not say that? Why not for each sport give an indication of the proportion under suspicion?
The damage is not limited to players, coaches and administrators, although that in itself is significant. Just imagine if everyone in your workplace was under suspicion for being a cheat or an illegal drug user. How would you feel? As the days go by, tension builds. With the mud chucked so liberally around, everyone is wondering if their club or one of their players will be next. Doubt is the most toxic of all weapons. Humans hate it. Morale takes a beating. It would be no fun.
The families of all these people worry about both the well-being and the reputation of their loved ones. Beyond that, of course, there are the sponsors. Quite rightly, they don't want to be sponsoring cheats.
Illicit or performance-enhancing drugs in sport are a bad thing. Shining a light on that is a laudable. Sadly, the ministers failed to shine a nice sharp clear light on the problem. Instead, they just chucked a lot of mud around, over everyone.
The whole scenario looked as though it was done for the purpose of getting headlines. After all, the media spotlight on drugs in sport is much more beneficial to the government than more news about union corruption or Wayne Swan's incompetence. Remember, the media's focus can affect the results of opinion polls.
No doubt with that in mind, the Minister for Sport put on her best steely glare, looked at the camera and, in a show of misplaced bravado and confidence, purported to tell the crooks and the cheats that their time was up. But saying ''If you cheat we will catch you'' is hardly likely to scare the pants off a drug dealer who hasn't been caught so far. The very existence and the content of the report indicates that in fact these people haven't been caught.
Presumably authorities already have all the evidence they can acquire covertly. Let's hope so because the minister has, with her show of bravado, put every drug runner on red alert. Now the crooks will be much more careful. If they can destroy evidence they will. If people need to leave the country they will have done so. Those who can will lie low for a while.
Sure, players and staff who are under suspicion can be interviewed. So they should be. But regrettably, thanks to this media extravaganza, the element of surprise has gone. The bad guys have been given time to get their story in order, to cross-check with each other and thus impede an investigation. It is extraordinarily unusual for law enforcement investigations to be enhanced by pre-warning the crooks through the media.
The problem the government knew about (it funded the inquiry) is worse than it thought. That tells us the current policy settings are not working. But if there has been an announcement detailing new policy settings, I missed it. More money may not be needed. But if it is, it hasn't been committed.
If the media splash had been used to back up new, well-thought-out policy initiatives, it might have served a purpose. Surely this was not done to soften up the Finance Minister for extra money in pre-budget negotiations. Perhaps it was nothing more than a case of grab the headlines now, think later.
Prior to this attack on sporting reputations around Australia, the sad fact that some people in sport use performance-enhancing or illegal drugs was known and deplored. The media management of this has simply ensured that many people now suspect everyone is involved. That seems to be all that has changed. Plenty of mud was thrown around. No mop and bucket was in sight.
It is ironic that in the name of getting fair play in sport, so many innocent people have been recklessly put under suspicion. That doesn't seem to be playing fair at all.
Amanda Vanstone is an Age columnist, a board member of the Port Adelaide Football Club and a former minister in the Howard government. These views are her own.