BRACED for the downfall of any sporting hero, and the nation's most popular codes having their images crushed, the Federal Sports Minister, Kate Lundy, has implored performance-enhancing drug users to declare themselves immediately.
Describing the Australian Crime Commission's report of widespread banned drug use in elite domestic sport as ''quite devastating'', Senator Lundy told Fairfax Media she has no interest in protecting the reputations of champions, or national sporting bodies, if it means cheats are exposed. Nothing would be more damaging to sport than allowing drug takers to carry on unpunished, Senator Lundy said.
How underworld sets traps for young players
How do underworld figures infiltrate sport? Watch the AFL video which is being given to players.
''I say to those athletes - 'Come forward … come clean and be part of the solution, not part of an ongoing problem'. I would think they should do it as soon as possible … investigations are already under way, so it is possible for people to come forward now,'' Senator Lundy said.
''I'm not interested in protecting drug cheats and people who are prepared to compromise the integrity of sport in Australia. The worst case scenario here is that they stay subterranean and organised crime gets a serious and immovable grip on Australian sport.
''What we know, and I think what experience is showing us, is that athletes who cheat are eventually caught … and even though it's going to be a difficult period I suspect for many, it's an incredibly important time for Australian sport."
With the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority set to gain unprecedented powers to compel persons of interest to co-operate with doping investigations, Senator Lundy has doubled the government agency's resources. Already in the midst of a major investigation into doping in Australian cycling following the findings last October against Lance Armstrong, ASADA is now key in a wider probe, including the investigation of AFL club Essendon.
Provided the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority amendment bill 2013 is passed - that could happen as soon as March - anyone who refuses to co-operate with the agency faces civil penalties.
ASADA has scope to vary sanctions for athletes who confess to banned drug use if they assist with information about others. The same rules saw professional cyclists who testified to the US Anti-Doping Agency about Lance Armstrong's drug use receive reduced sanctions.
Senator Lundy would not reveal whether she is aware of the finer detail of the ACC report that refers to ''multiple players [in one code] from a number of clubs [who] are suspected of currently using or having previously used peptides, which could constitute an anti-doping rule violation''.
''It's important to respect the fact that there are ongoing investigations,'' she said. ''And new investigations have started as this information is referred across to relevant agencies, including ASADA and law-enforcement agencies.''
ASADA's investigation into cycling is yet to publicly unearth any further bad news for that embattled sport, though Fairfax Media understands the anti-doping body is probing a serious allegation of former track champion Martin Vinnicombe.
Vinnicombe claimed last year that a person who still holds a position of high influence in Australian cycling oversaw doping. Fairfax Media has been told who that figure is but is unable to publish the identity for legal reasons.
After the former ASADA boss Richard Ings lamented ''the blackest day in Australian sport'' once the ACC released its report, the president of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, who has long championed for ASADA's powers to be bolstered, told Fairfax Media: ''Around the office, I've said I'm pleased. Last night we finally got ourselves some legislation [increasing ASADA's investigative powers].
''It doesn't worry me if it's the blackest day in Australian sport. I think sometimes you need some pain before you get some gain. That's how I would be approaching today.''
The President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, John Fahey, described the report as ''earth-shattering''. ''I think it will shatter the view that so many Australians who love sport have had,'' he told ABC Radio.