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Blackest day in Australian sport may have just got blacker

Sharks prop Johnny Mannah watches on from the bench during the round 15 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Brisbane Broncos at Toyota Stadium on June 22, 2009.

Sharks prop Johnny Mannah watches on from the bench during the round 15 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Brisbane Broncos at Toyota Stadium on June 22, 2009. Photo: Getty Images

We have seen the images of the grim-faced politicians and sports officials announcing the Australian Crime Commission investigation into the distribution and use of performance enhancing substances in Australian sport, and the growing anti-ageing and vanity industries. Mostly, they have been used to ridicule and condemn. To claim the problem was not as substantial as we had been warned, or to decry ASADA's supposedly bungled and snail-paced investigation.

Yet, for those willing to wait for the evidence to emerge, the dour expressions suddenly seem apt, and the concerns that prompted them grave.

Adding to a steadily accumulating body of evidence, Fairfax Media and the ABC's Four Corners reported the allegations of Shane Charter, a convicted drug trafficker who gave an insight into both the importation, and the use, of performance enhancing drugs. Inevitably, the worth of Charter's evidence was questioned. Although perhaps not by those investigators who adhere to the adage "It takes a thief to catch a thief".

Now, most disturbingly, News Ltd quotes an independent report commissioned by Cronulla. One which raises the possibility of a "causal link" between the use of performance enhancing substances, Jon Mannah, and the Hodgkin's lymphoma that killed him. The report does not say that Mannah took peptides, but was at the Sharks when the supplements program was implemented.

These media reports are at the extreme ends of the initial ASC investigation and the subsequent ASADA probe.

Charter's allegations emphasise the criminal links to those importing and distributing both legal and illegal substances. A burgeoning trade that prompted the initial interest of the ASC which, naturally, is more interested in following the trail to big-time importers than identifying which prop or half-back flanker was at the end of the chain.

The reported link between Mannah's possible use of peptides that could promote the growth of cells, and the acceleration of his cancer, represents the most grave and unconscionable consequence of administering untested, unauthorised and potentially harmful substances to athletes. The potential outcome often ignored when the use of performance enhancing substances is considered only through the win-loss prism of professional sport. One that, to give the phrase the power denied by those inconvenienced by the ASADA investigation, would indeed make these the "blackest day(s) in Australian sport".

Importantly, Mannah has not been accused of wilfully cheating. The narrative of a sordid tale, so far, is that the players in two codes have been victims. Pin cushions let down by those who should have protected them.

Of course, we should hasten slowly. We should demonstrate the patience lacking in those who continue to ridicule both the ASADA investigation, and the process, because it has cast a cloud over their codes. Never mind that this cloud was created by those in the codes whose grand ambitions and failed protocols - at the very least - came at the expense of player welfare.

The same verbose media voices pilloried ASADA for cancelling interviews with Cronulla players last week, citing it as another example of the agencies incompetence. Yet, the News Ltd. report suggests this was done, sensibly, to digest the disturbing findings of the Sharks' report.

New Ltd. quotes Cronulla's internal report. That is was compiled by former ASADA deputy chairwoman Tricia Kavanagh will, no doubt, prompt claims it is intended to back ASADA's agenda. But the reference to Mannah is chilling.

"A brief review of available published medical literature suggests an identified causal link between the use of substances such as CJC-1295 and GHRP-6 and the acceleration of the condition of disease Hodgkin's lymphoma. Without knowing anything further about Mannah's exact medical history and without seeking expert opinion from an appropriately qualified oncologist it is difficult to take this issue further. The issue of Mannah has the potential to be as serious as matters could get."

Reflexively, fans egged on by self-interested denialists howl at the moon. The empowerment of social media provides a forum for those who do not understand the process of investigation undertaken by ASADA, WADA and others, or the information seen by the media. Or who are simply unwilling to open their eyes.

Meanwhile, on Anzac Day, Essendon played wonderfully before 93,000 people at the MCG to beat Collingwood. The same day, it had been reported the Bombers had confirmed six players had been administered a substance not cleared for human use. One, thus, banned under the WADA drug code.

The manner in which Essendon performed under such intense scrutiny is praiseworthy. Less so the officials who sought to push the boundaries of performance without enforcing the necessary checks and balances required to implement their program.

In football terms, the consequences could be grim at any club found to have let their players down. Suspensions, heavy fines, and perhaps loss of premiership points. But, if it is proven that the race to improve football performance has imperiled human life, then real-world justice will be imposed.

54 comments so far

  • SMH and the Telegraph have suddenly found a story to bleed the tragedy of John Mannah. No evidence that he even took supplements, but now his death is a page one story for the SMH and the first THREE pages of the Telegraph. No evidence, no real story and no journalistic standards. If banned drugs have been used by sporting teams, it is outrageous and the penalties should reflect the breaches, but the ongoing leaking of speculative breaches is hurting the credibility of the investigation and the sports in general.

    Date and time
    April 26, 2013, 1:48PM
    • Well said Bazwat. 3 months now since that press conference and still no players yet alone criminals charged. ASADA continue to grasp at straws to find a scalp - any scalp to justify an over hyped press conference at the behest of Canberra politicians. Shame on those politicians, shame on ASADA, shame on the NRL for it's limp wristed defence of it's core product - the players. At least the AFL has proper leadership. And Richard Hinds lift your game, the facts do not match the sensationalist headline.

      Date and time
      April 26, 2013, 4:37PM
    • It turns out this story is based on the medical opinion of a lawyer upon a brief review of the medical literature (which he probably didn't have a clue about), not the opinion of a medical expert or the cancer council? Scraping the barrel again surely. This whole Asada scandal has done nothing but lower the publics opinion of the Government bodies, the media and also the journalists involved, if that would be possible in the case of Richard Hinds.

      Date and time
      April 26, 2013, 9:39PM
    • This isn't an ASADA scandal nor should the government hold its head in shame. A small section of the media (Richard Hinds included) has reported with intelligence, knowledge and thought. This is an issue of the NRL & AFLs' making. You may wish for it to turn out to be untrue and you may want answers quicker but eventually ASADA (whose powers to conduct speedy investigations is poor at best) will give us the full picture and then you can make your mind up.
      The Reasoned Decision by USADA against Armstrong took years to complete, was ridiculed mercilessly in parts of the press, disbelieved by his followers and made out to be produced by incompetents and we all know how that finished.

      Date and time
      April 27, 2013, 2:49PM
    • Bawzat, absolutely spot on. The SMH is now re-reporting an allegation/suggestion/hint aired in the Telegraph. No-one, not even Dank, has actually said John Mannah took peptides. The report states there is no conclusive evidence but perhaps a causal link. The "Darkest Day in Sport" story is running out of steam and every few days there is some new "sensational" reporting of some issue and a re-run of earlier reports. Let's let the investigators do their job and get on with the process. Then have the SMH report on facts.

      Sean R
      Date and time
      April 27, 2013, 7:41PM
  • I watched Channel 9's interview/ambush with John Mannah's grandfather this morning. Poor bloke didn't know what they were talking about, and wanted to be left alone. Channel 9, you are a disgrace!!

    Date and time
    April 26, 2013, 1:58PM
    • You know you are scraping the bottom of the barrel when you start quoting from News Ltd. Absolutely no evidence that Mannah was administered with peptides but that seems irrelevant in this investigation. No doubt that a dark element exists in all sports as players, officials etc try to push the boundaries. And we all agree that these people must be dealt with harshly.

      But unless there is undeniable proof that Jon took part then this should never have been leaked (as convenient as it is). The poor Mannah family. This is the last thing they need as they grieve their son and brother.

      You get the feeling that the investigators have gathered all the evidence they can but will wait for a big event to release their findings. They first did this on the eve of the season and no doubt have State of Origin firmly in their sights. It's hard not to be cynical with the way this circus has transpired.

      Date and time
      April 26, 2013, 2:01PM
      • I don't think this is good enough Richard,what a long bow to draw based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever. I truly feel for the Mannah family that the death of their son should be used to create another sordid angle on a story that has no substance other than to yet again paint the rugby league in a negative light.

        Date and time
        April 26, 2013, 2:01PM
        • First responsible article I have read on the subject. Anyone trying to do the right ethical thing for the good of the sport is being marginalised for not being loyal. ASADA, Kavanagh, Cronulla board are all vilified yet it should be those that support behaviour that can lead to death that are marginalised. It CAN lead to death of a young person. If it did in this case is obviously a massive concern but the fact that it can should make people stop and question their misplaced loyalties, Whether proven in this case or not. The fans in this case have turned my off sport forever. All sports need a major cultural change, they keep forgiving bad behaviour over and over.

          Date and time
          April 26, 2013, 2:42PM
          • "Whether proven in this case or not" - that is just the point, as others have stated. The sports media have jumped on this with their usual opportunistic zeal - a mute target whose family are still grieving. Vilifying this young guy will do nothing for the ASADA investigation which should be left alone to gather the facts and do their job without all the media leaks.

            Date and time
            April 26, 2013, 4:54PM

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