Drug agency hires ex-judge for NRL, AFL doping probes

Almost a year after the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority launched probes into the AFL and NRL, the federal government has provided extra funding in a bid to finalise the investigations.

ASADA has hired former Federal Court judge Garry Downes. Sports Minister Peter Dutton said Downes would review ASADA’s investigations and provide it with a report on his findings by the end of April.

However, there was still no indication when the doping probes, which threaten to mar both codes for a second season, would be finalised.

“ASADA’s investigative process has been ongoing for nearly a year and is of unprecedented complexity,” Dutton said in a statement.

“In light of this, it is appropriate that a suitably qualified person be engaged to assist ASADA as the investigations approach conclusion.

“The review process will assist ASADA in finalising its investigations, but does not in itself guarantee finalisation on a fixed date.”

ASADA’s inquiries were launched as a result of a year-long investigation by the Australian Crime Commission, which called a media conference on February 7, 2013 – dubbed the darkest day in Australian sport – announcing it had uncovered evidence of widespread use of banned drugs in Australian sport and also links to organised crime.

NRL outfit Cronulla and AFL club Essendon have been at the centre of the ASADA probes, with both reprimanded by their leagues for mismanagement of their team supplements programs.

Acting on an interim ASADA report, the AFL last year charged the Bombers with bringing the game into disrepute, disqualifying them from the 2013 finals and fining them $2 million.

It also suspended Bombers coach James Hird for a year, banned football operations boss Danny Corcoran for six months, fined Hird’s coaching assistant Mark Thomson $30,000 and penalised them top draft picks for two seasons.

The NRL took longer to come down on the Sharks, but in December it fined them $1 million, handed coach Shane Flanagan a provisional one-year suspension and proposed former trainer Trent Elkin be deregistered for two years.

The club, as well as Flanagan and Elkin, submitted their responses to the NRL’s breach notices last Wednesday and are believed to be appealing the sanctions.

With ASADA yet to make its final rulings, the possibility remains that players from both codes could face suspensions.

So far Canberra NRL winger Sandor Earl, who was issued with a breach notice in August following his admission to the use and trafficking of a peptide, is the only player charged from either code.

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