Sticky end for the 'whatever it takes' mentality
It was the moral equivalent of Australian sport - so recently strutting and strong - being suddenly backed into the corner ropes by a perfumed posse of small men in suits and well groomed women in power outfits and being pummelled to a bloody pulp in a few minutes.
The news conference in Canberra on Thursday at which the Australian Crime Commission released the preliminary findings of its 12-month investigation into the integrity - or lack thereof - of Australian professional sport was a devastating affair. Just the title of the report - Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport - was enough to chill the main sports represented, including the bosses of cricket, soccer, AFL, rugby league and union.
We're about to see up close what goes into professional Australian sport and it is likely to be disgusting.
Official after official, minister after minister, talked of professional sport being linked with organised crime; of potentially having had matches fixed to suit betting interests; of at least one instance of team-based doping; of many sports being awash with prohibited substances; of organised crime sometimes providing the drugs to gain leverage into match fixing, of the likelihood that criminal charges would be laid. Not for nothing would the former boss of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Richard Ings call it ''the blackest day in Australian sport''.
For who could argue? The Justice Minister, Jason Clare, said: "The ACC has found that professional sport in Australia is highly vulnerable to infiltration by organised crime. Multiple athletes from a number of clubs in major Australian sporting codes are suspected of currently using or having used peptides [human growth drugs]. The findings are shocking and will disgust Australian sports fans. It's cheating … but it's worse than that. It's cheating with the help of criminals.''
Then, the lowest blow of all: ''There are clear parallels,'' the report says, ''between what has been discovered in Australia and the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong, which underlines the transnational threat posed by doping to professional sport, both from a 'fair play' perspective and as a broader integrity issue.''
Us? Elite Australian sport? That noble and proud entity once graced by the likes of Donald Bradman, Shane Gould, Evonne Goolagong, Herb Elliot, Ron Barassi, Arthur Beetson and Nicholas Shehadie compared to the most infamous cheat in international sporting history? Can it be this bad?
At the very least it appears that what was thought to be the breakfast of champions has been analysed and found to be a cross between a can of worms and a nest of vipers.
My suspicion is that in the world of tight team sport in the land of the big money big time, strange and sometime criminal practices have evolved. Quite rightly, the government and authorities have shone a bright light to see what is going on - and we will all soon know more.
The process will not be pretty. But just as the US government and authorities had the courage and energy to go after Armstrong, so must this be pursued to its ends.
Those who cheat, who fix, who dope, who have succumbed to the pressures of the ''whatever it takes to win'' mentality are in for an ugly time of it. Those who have prostituted their positions to engineer results for their enrichment - and to hell with the fans who think they are witnessing and often betting on an honest contest - will be exposed.
And ultimately Australian sport will be the better for it.
The German chancellor Otto von Bismarck is reputed to have said that ''if you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made''.
We're about to see up close what goes into professional Australian sport and it is likely to be disgusting. But at the end of the process, at least it will be a lot more palatable and that is the main thing.