Issues in the News ASADA’s investigations into the Essendon Football Club led to a 12-month ban for coach James Hird. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

What is ASADA?

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) is the government body responsible for protecting the nation’s sporting integrity. Established in 2006, it replaced the Australian Sports Drug Agency (ASDA) that was formed in 1990. The authority co-ordinates Australia’s anti-doping program and oversees the drug-related policies of sporting organisations around the country. It spreads its message through education initiatives, investigations and drug testing, which is conducted in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

ASADA’s objective is to achieve ‘‘pure’’ sporting performance. By eliminating the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs (doping) – substances that are illegally used by some athletes to gain a competitive advantage – the authority aims to provide a safe, level and fair sporting environment for all.

What is WADA’s role?

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was formed in Switzerland in 1999 to combat drugs in sport. The agency is responsible for defining, reviewing and developing the World Anti-Doping Code, which has been adopted by most countries and more than 600 sports organisations around the world, including ASADA. This ‘‘harmonised’’ system ensures a consistent approach to drug-testing and scientific research and guarantees the valuable sharing of knowledge internationally.

Each year WADA publishes an updated ‘‘Prohibited List’’ of substances and methods that athletes must avoid. The list is based on broad expert consultation and the most recent scientific and medical advances available. Substances or methods are included on the list if they potentially enhance sporting performance, pose health risks to athletes, or violate the ‘‘spirit of the sport’’.

What are an athlete’s responsibilities under the code?

Because athletes are individually responsible for the substances they take and the methods they use in taking them, they must be aware of the rules associated with the code: care must be taken because a substance may be legal to the general population but illegal for athletes. Some prohibited substances exist as ingredients in certain over-the-counter medications. For example, under the Prohibited List, pseudoephedrine, which is present in some cold and flu tablets, is banned in quantities above 150 micrograms per millilitre for athletes during competition. If athletes require a banned substance for medical reasons, they must apply for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). A TUE approval means athletes are protected from sanctions if a prohibited substance is found in their blood or urine sample. ASADA is available to help athletes check the current status of specific substances and methods.

To enforce doping-control measures, athletes may be selected to participate in a registered testing pool (RTP). If selected, they must regularly inform the authority of their whereabouts so that tests may be administered, without advance notice, four times during the year. Those who fail to comply may be heavily penalised.

What do changes to the ASADA Act mean?

The detection of banned substances has traditionally occurred through the timely collection of blood and urine samples. However, the increased sophistication of certain doping practices has meant that testing alone is no longer sufficient. Revelations of widespread doping in professional cycling, most notably the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) investigation into American cyclist Lance Armstrong in 2012, prompted a review of ASADA’s powers in an attempt to address this inadequacy.

Subsequently, expert recommendations were made that resulted in amendments to the law. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Amendment 2013, which only came into effect on August 1, now grants ASADA increased investigative and intelligence-gathering powers, including the right to compel witnesses with suspected knowledge of specific doping practices to be interviewed or to produce documentation.

Why did ASADA investigate the Essendon Football Club?

Over the past seven months, ASADA has conducted an ongoing investigation into Australian Football League (AFL) club Essendon over its 2011-12 supplements program. The investigation was prompted by a controversial Australian Crime Commission report – Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport – in which Essendon was implicated. Following the report’s release, ASADA reviewed thousands of documents and conducted 113 interviews to determine the true nature of the substances found to have been routinely injected into Essendon players as part of its supplements regimen. The Essendon revelations shocked many AFL fans, clubs and players.

ASADA’s findings were detailed in its 400-page interim report which was released to the AFL on August 2. However, poor record-keeping at Essendon in relation to its supplements program means that many unanswered questions remain. With ASADA’s investigative powers now enhanced, the authority’s chief executive, Aurora Andruska, has indicated that the investigation is far from over.

What are the repercussions?

ASADA has spearheaded investigations into Australian cycling, and National Rugby League team the Cronulla Sharks. However, Essendon’s controversial case is the first of its kind to engulf an AFL club.

The AFL responded to ASADA’s interim report with a 34-page charge sheet against Essendon and four of its officials for ‘‘bringing the game into disrepute’’: coach James Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, football manager Danny Corcoran and doctor Bruce Reid. Sanctions imposed by the AFL Commission include a $2 million fine; a 12-month coaching suspension for  Hird, and exclusion from competing in the 2013 finals series. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou described the penalties as ‘‘the most significant’’ in AFL history.

Concerns remain for the welfare of players who, it is believed, were unaware that the supplements they received potentially contravened the WADA code. Players’ parents and agents are demanding answers regarding the potential side effects of substances detailed in the AFL list of charges to which it is known Essendon players were exposed. Some expect further sanctions ahead, possibly for Essendon players, as the ASADA investigation continues.

Recent headlines

‘‘James Hird must answer for arrogance’’ The Australian, August 24

‘‘ASADA must act to restore public trust in sport’’ The Age, August 11

‘‘Door not closed on Bomber doping infractions’’ afl杭州夜生活, August 27

‘‘In the end, Hird bows to pressure’’ The Age, August 28

What people say

‘‘ASADA has effectively fostered a scurrilous public conversation, bringing unfair public prejudice upon Essendon and its constituents, all of whom deserved the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.’’ – Business adviser, Tom McCarthy, The Age, August 23

‘‘The World Anti-Doping Agency makes the rules. ASADA has no choice but to apply the rules exactly as intended. Anything less is unacceptable.’’ – Ross Kroger, The Age, August 3

‘‘My son, who plays for Essendon, and who I entrusted to be taken care of, has basically been used as a guinea pig.’’ – Unnamed mother of an Essendon player, The Australian, August 24

‘‘It is not apparent to me, based on my reading of the interim report, how the club can be certain that no player’s health was put at risk by virtue of its supplements program. I will be urgently seeking the medical advice from the club which provides the basis for this position. At present, it would appear to me that if indeed all players have escaped negative health effects, it will be attributable more to good luck than any prudent management.’’ – AFL Players Association chief executive Matt Finnis, The Age, August 27

‘‘I have some fundamental problems being club doctor at present. This particularly applies to the administration of supplements. Although we have been giving supplements for approximately three months, despite repeated requests as to exactly what we are giving our players and the literature related to this, have at no time been given that until last Sunday [January 15, 2012]. Last week the players were given subcutaneous injections, not by myself, and I had no idea that this was happening and also what drug was involved … I think we are playing at the edge and this will read extremely badly in the press for our club and for the benefits and also for side effects that are not known in the long term, I have trouble with all these drugs.’’ – Essendon Football Club doctor Bruce Reid, afl杭州夜生活, August 21 (from a letter sent to James Hird and Paul Hamilton in January 2012)


Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA)

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)wada-ama杭州夜生活/en/

Australian Anti-Doping

Dr Bruce Reid’s letter to James Hird and Paul Hamilton (January 2012)afl杭州夜生活

Your view

How do you feel about the use of drugs in sport? Is there too much pressure to win? What do you think of Essendon’s sanctions?

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.