The Australian Crime Commission's report into sports corruption is unflinching in its rhetoric. It evokes images of organised crime, match-fixing and, disturbingly, "drugs not approved for human use" encroaching upon our supposedly innocent past-times.
But one sentence that is neither sensational nor shocking will haunt administrators across the codes should the report's most serious claims be proven. It is the commission's answer to a key question – how had an insidious link between our major sports and organised crime been formed, and gone unbroken?
"This is facilitated by a lack of appropriate levels of due diligence by sporting clubs and sports governing bodies when entering into business arrangements," the report said. It is a statement that cuts to the heart of matter. One that should make Australian sport blush. Particularly those administrators who have failed to protect their leagues, and consequently their fans, from systematic cheating.
Plenty of concern ... NRL chief executive David Smith speaks at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday after the Australian Crime Commission released its shocking findings on sport. Photo: Getty Images
After the era of the mustachioed female shot-putter from East Germany, the broad shouldered Chinese swimmer and the BALCO-fuelled rockets wearing stars and stripes, some officials have been – in the best-case scenario – blithely unaware of what takes place in their own sheds. Or, in the worst case, complicit to previously unimagined levels of systematic corruption.
The scapegoats will be assembled. The sports scientists with sinister nicknames, the organised criminals preying on feckless athletes and the rogue officials and coaches working outside the system. But it is the administrations which allowed corruption to fester which should be called to account if allegations lead to convictions.
Despite the aggressive language of the report, and the two government ministers who presented it – Justice Minister Jason Clare and Sports Minister Kate Lundy – an "if" still resounds. Legal sensitivities mean we have seen only a "snapshot", not the full picture. A glimpse of the accusations of widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs, match-fixing and manipulation of betting markets. We await sport's day in court.
Cracking down ... Justice Minister Jason Clare during Thursday's press conference on organised crime and drugs in sport. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Clearly the report was released, while the investigation into specific cases continues, as a statement of intent. Its forceful language is calculated to frighten and cajole potential witnesses. "Don't underestimate how much we know," Clare said. "If you are involved in this, come forward before you get a knock on the door."
The cynical will detect political overtones. Lundy's reference to the "Gillard government's commitment to eradicating doping from sport" was the sabre-rattling you would expect in an election year. However, as the work of the Australian Crime Commission, it would be foolhardy to assume this was all tip and no iceberg.
The release of these edited highlights might put offenders on notice, but it will also fuel speculation. There will be a race to expose the match the report claims was fixed, and to identify those accused of systematic doping. Anyone associated with a sports club who has had so much as a parking ticket will be scrutinised.
Essendon officials will not know whether to feel anguished or relieved. The timing of an investigation into the use of supplements associates the club with the report, despite attempts by the AFL to suggest otherwise. At the same time, the Bombers are now merely one patient in an epidemic. Some attention will be deflected.
Meanwhile, NRL clubs frantically search their cupboards, hoping there are no skeletons. But the fact the investigations conducted by officials in all codes are retrospective merely underlines their negligence. The effort taken to scour old records and check systems will be far greater than that taken to ensure the scourge was kept at bay.
World Anti-Doping Agency chief John Fahey underlined this point in red ink: "It seems to be history in sport that you'll address these issues only when something surfaces and you'll try to avoid it until that time."
The most common alibi for the use of performance-enhancing drugs is the athlete's win-at-all-costs mentality. It is not an excuse, but a plausible rationalisation; one that even invites fans to shoulder a share of the blame because of their expectations.
But the report pushes the issue well beyond the playing field. It forces us to think not merely of athletes taking drugs, but where they got them. It exposes the consequences of association with criminal suppliers. Match-fixing, recreational drugs, money laundering.
The NRL, AFL and ARU would seem to have the greatest concern about performance enhancement. But the current climate provides little comfort for cricket and soccer, the most likely targets for match-fixing given the tastes of the global betting industry.
The fortunate will have remained just that – merely targets for the dopers and the match fixers. But, if this report is to be believed, lax administration has allowed crime and corruption to hit the bullseye too often.