Football doping scandal: 'The Blackest Day in Australian sport'

YEAR IN REVIEW

It was dubbed the ‘blackest day in Australian sport’ after a 12-month investigation revealed doping was widespread among professional athletes.

The report, delivered in February as a result of a year-long probe by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), shocked the sporting the world, claimed multiple scalps and exposed two of the country’s most important football codes – the AFL and the NRL.

The investigation, code-named Project Aperio, found evidence of performance-enhancing substance abuse, with increasingly dangerous links to organised crime and match fixing.

The report, which could not legally reveal the names of the athletes or clubs at the centre of the investigation, left a veil of suspicion hanging over all sports, sparking intense criticism.

However, ASADA, the NRL and the AFL launched their own independent investigations amid the shocking revelations, and it was a top AFL club and a NRL star that became the begrudging faces of the doping scandal.

AFL and NRL targets in anti-doping probe

In February 2013, the Essendon Football Club invited ASADA investigators to probe its supplements regime, after concerns players had been injected with a banned anti-obesity drug not fit for human use.

The six-month investigation, which saw resignations from both the club’s CEO Ian Robson and chairman David Evans, culminated in the toughest punishments in AFL history.

One of the nation's oldest and most successful AFL clubs, Essendon's 2013 season ended in ignominy, disqualified from competing in the league’s final series, stripped of draft picks for two seasons, and hit with a $2 million fine.

In an unprecedented move by the AFL, head coach James Hird, a former champion player and one of the game's most revered identities, was banned for 12 months.

The stinging punishment served as a stern warning that such behaviour would not be tolerated in the AFL or Australian sport.

Controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank, who helped the Bombers source supplements and set up the program, has repeatedly denied giving players banned drugs.

But the AFL was only the first domino to fall in the anti-doping investigation – the clean face of the NRL also became a target in the nationwide probe.

It was Dank's work as a consultant at Cronulla Sharks in 2011, which dragged 11 of the club’s players under the glare of ASADA’S anti-doping investigators.

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The Sharks took the shock move of temporarily standing down coach Shane Flanagan, while sacking team doctor David Givney, football manager Darren Mooney, head trainer Mark Noakes and physiotherapist Konrad Schultz, citing ‘management issues’ and not doping violations.

On August 29, Canberra Raider Sandor Earl became the first athlete to be issued with an infraction notice following his admission to the use and trafficking of a banned substance, an offence which carries a four-year ban.

The suspended winger is adamant he is not a drug cheat and claims he had no reason to doubt Dank who administered the injections.

Essendon and Cronulla remain at the mercy of the ongoing ASADA investigation, with more players facing possible infraction penalties.