Large scale doping nothing new, sports law expert explains

Doping. A subject that was once taboo in sport is now in the headlines as often as there is an international competition.


Just as it has tarnished names such as Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones before, it now casts a shadow on the performance of the entire Russian athletics team at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

A World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) report released yesterday uncovered a "deeply rooted culture of cheating" within the team and recommends barring Russia from competing at next year's Games should it not entirely overhaul its approach.

Hayden Opie, Director of Studies of the Melbourne Sports Law program at the University of Melbourne, says the allegations of a widespread doping program do not surprise him.

"It doesn't surprise me in the sense that it's happened before," he says.

"We've seen it with the East Germans when it was state sponsored. That emerged when the Wall came down and the East German regime collapsed and access was obtained to the files of the Stasi, the secret police, which ran a very enormous and successful doping programme.

"Outside of that Eastern bloc, there has been private, entrepreneurial activity. You only have to look at the Tour de France with Lance Armstrong and his teams; you've only got to look at what happened with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) in San Francisco, where they designed a steroid that could not be detected then sold that to a whole lot of leading athletes, among them Marion Jones.

"Therefore, it is not surprising there can be large-scale, systematic, deliberate doping anywhere."

The fact that it has taken more than three years for the report to emerge is a reflection of just how closely guarded doping programs can be, Mr Opie says.

It can often be a decade after the fact that it emerges an athlete has cheated, and could remain covered should it not be for investigative journalists.

"One can have one's suspicions but once must have evidence, and when it is a closed shop, and there are walls around it, it can be very difficult," Mr Opie says.

"One might say why didn't the authorities of the sports get to it and that's an ongoing question. Why does it take an investigative journalist to reveal this when you have the likes of WADA and other organisations? They are valid questions to ask."

The damning report into the performance of Russian athletes, whom collectively won eight gold, six silver, and four bronze medals at the London Olympics, was released on the day WorkSafe Victoria charged the Essendon Football Club with two breaches relating to its 2012 supplements program.

It is just another battle the Bombers have had to face since being implicated in the Australian Crime Commission's (ACC's) 'Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport' report in 2013, including investigations from both WADA and the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority (ASADA).

Mr Opie believes there needs to be a serious shift in the perceptions of athletes if doping issues were ever to subside.

"You need to have a cultural change. There are great incentives to cheat and so it's about the culture that prevails in elite competition," he says.

"In one extreme, you've got people saying 'get rid of that' but I don't think we are going to get rid of that, so we have to live with the fact that some people will seek to break the rules, and that will mean creating a change in culture, education, and offering alternative ways at being good at what you do.

"Ultimately, I don't see an end to it but just an ongoing method of trying to keep it under reasonable control. It is in human nature to do it."

Although hesitant to point a finger, Mr Opie says it is fathomable for other nations to be carrying out similar doping programs such as the one Russia allegedly implemented for its athletes.

He says that could mean doping was either passively or actively encouraged, or simply overlooked by coaches and authorities.

"You can't sort of say any nation can say it is absolutely clean. That, in a sense, is a sad thing."