Sports Editor at thewest.com.au, Ross Lewis, scrutinises the big issues in sport
Not so long ago this country went to war in the Middle East over weapons of mass destruction.
According to the US, UK and Australian governments the evidence was irrefutable. Iraq had an arsenal that threatened peace. So it was incumbent on the western world to stop the evil regime in control of the missiles.
But after the loss of very good men the world discovered that the bombs, at least the ones that were going to wipe out whole enterprises, weren’t there.
Australian sport is now going through a similar scrutiny. Earlier this month our government pointed the finger at football codes, highlighting an alleged scourge that threatened the sanctity of the competitions we love to follow.
And just as the military found the war chest half-a-world away bare of significant material to register wide-range damage, the spotlight on the AFL, NRL, ARU and A-League has failed to highlight a scourge, at least to the extent federal ministers Kate Lundy and Jason Clare warned us about in their sermon to the national sporting community.
Backed by an Australian Crime Commission report lacking in detail and fear-mongering from the country’s sports anti-doping authority, an atmosphere of fear has enveloped the codes.
It seemed everyone was guilty by association and each club and individuals within them were forced to prove their innocence rather than defend their guilt.
Sure, the Essendon Football Club has put up its hand and requested ASADA look into the use of supplements last season. But there is still no proof in the public domain that what the Bombers used was illegal – or even against the doping authority’s own guidelines.
It may yet be deemed otherwise. But the man behind the scheme, Steven Dank, isn’t some witch doctor from the jungle. He is a highly-educated biomechanist, who has extensive experience in the area.
However, Dank is already a casualty of the new Australian sports war. And like another battle being waged by this country in Afghanistan it is not clear who is actually the enemy.
If Essendon are in the clear then it would seem that one second-grade rugby league player and possibly an unnamed AFL player acting outside his club’s guidelines are the only suspects to emerge from the greatest witch-hunt in Australian history.
It is hardly the “widespread use” that was stated in the ACC report.
But while there are few identities associated with the crusade, there are thousands of athletes, most of them acting well within the ASADA parameters, who have had their reputations sullied.
When the NAB Cup starts any player that has added a few extra kilograms, say someone like Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe when he does take to the field in the series, will attract the whispers of suspicion. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Fyfe’s increase in bulk isn’t due just to old-fashioned hard work and a good diet.
Yet to borrow a line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when peasants were asked why a particular woman was a witch, they replied with “Because she looks like one”. Such a farcical situation will overshadow all the football codes for much of the year until we all know names of the guilty.
Only then can the Australian public determine just how deep runs the threat to sporting integrity.
Until then, good men will be sacrificed for no apparent reason.