Infraction notices may still be issued against NRL and AFL players while former Federal Court judge Garry Downes is reviewing details of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's 12-month investigation into doping allegations in both codes.
With this week marking the one-year anniversary of the February 7 press conference dubbed ''the darkest day in Australian sport'', the federal government has appointed Downes to help bring the exhaustive but so far inconclusive investigation to a speedier conclusion.
However, beyond an April deadline for Downes to finalise his report, no date has been fixed for the end of the investigation and Fairfax Media was told that ASADA would proceed as normal in its investigations, which have focused heavily on events at Cronulla in 2011 and Essendon in 2012.
Federal Sports Minister Peter Dutton said the appointment of Downes provided additional resources to ASADA and his role was to help decide if charges could be laid.
''ASADA's investigative process has been ongoing for nearly a year and is of unprecedented complexity,'' Dutton said. ''In light of this, it is appropriate that a suitably qualified person be engaged to assist ASADA as the investigations approach conclusion.''
So far, former Canberra winger Sandor Earl remains the only person from either code charged over a doping violation. He has admitted to using the banned peptide CJC-1295 to aid recovery from a shoulder operation while at Penrith in 2011.
Earl faces a four-year ban after also being charged with trafficking for transporting the supplement to the doctor who injected him, but he is seeking a 75 per cent reduction for ''substantial assistance''.
With the fate of more than 30 other players who have been interviewed by ASADA still in the balance, the NRL is keen for the findings of the investigation to be released and backed the appointment of Downes.
"The NRL supports any measures that will assist ASADA in bringing this current investigation to a conclusion,’’ NRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle said. “The NRL remains keen for a resolution that is both thorough and timely and will continue to work with ASADA and Garry Downes to provide any assistance required.’’
Sharks chairman Damian Keogh, whose club and coach Shane Flanagan are contesting sanctions imposed by the NRL over the supplements program at Cronulla in 2011, said he welcomed any move that would bring ASADA’s investigation to an end.
“From our perspective anything that can try and bring this to a natural conclusion as soon as possible would be welcomed from our club,” Keogh said. “The longer it drags on the more pain we have been dragged through. We’ve been on their timetable since day one. It’s not surprising that this won’t continue.”
The Sharks were fined $1 million and Flanagan stood down for 12 months over governance issues at the club in 2011, while former head trainer Trent Elkin – now at Parramatta – is also appealing after being banned for a minimum of two years by the NRL.
In the AFL, Essendon were found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute and disqualified from last year’s finals series and penalised top draft picks for two years. The Bombers also received a $2 million fine, while coach James Hird was suspended for a year, football operations boss Danny Corcoran received a six-month ban and assistant coach Mark Thompson was fined $30,000.
While the investigation was launched under the previous Labor government, Dutton said the Coalition was committed to ensuring that ASADA remains properly equipped to deal with the evolving challenges of combating anti-doping activities in Australian sport.
‘‘Ensuring Australian sport remains free from performance-enhancing drugs and the influence of those who would seek to compromise the integrity of sporting competitions remains a high priority for this government and we will continue to work in partnership to protect the integrity of Australian sport,’’ Dutton said. ‘‘The government recognises the strong public and sports’ interest in bringing to a conclusion ASADA’S investigations ... and it is expected that Mr Downes will be able to complete a review and provide a report to ASADA as soon as possible, but no later than the end of April 2014. The review process will assist ASADA in finalising its investigations, but does not in itself guarantee finalisation on a fixed date.’’
Brad Walter, Michael Carayannis