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Volume 6 No. 216

Leagues and Governing Bodies

There are "no active criminal investigations" into allegations raised by the Australian Crime Commission's year-long examination of organized crime and drugs in sport despite state-based police "having been aware of its findings for the past five months," according to Le Grand & Maley of THE AUSTRALIAN. ACC CEO John Lawler has been "under pressure to defend his agency's handling of last week's report" warning crime gangs were infiltrating the major pro sports. Lawler said that the operation "had largely gathered intelligence rather than evidence and was not intended to result in arrests." Lawler said, "The purpose of such an operation is not to make arrests. The purpose is to understand the threat, risk and vulnerabilities." Amid growing frustration inside the Australian Football League and National Rugby League about the lack of specific allegations and the damage being inflicted on the reputations of players and clubs, Lawler said the ACC utilized its "full suite of powers" in the operation, including more than 30 coercive examinations. However, under questioning from opposition legal affairs spokesperson George Brandis, Lawler "refused to say whether any current AFL or NRL players were examined as part of the operation." No current Essendon player was examined by the ACC despite the AFL club "being the subject of serious doping allegations" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/13).

GROWING FRUSTRATION: In Sydney, Patrick Smith noted the community initially "accepted the ACC's explanation" that it could not divulge any information, but that it "had a lot of evidence that pointed to organised crime infiltrating and despoiling the sanctity of sport, the nation's great love." As the real targets of the crime bosses are being narrowed down, the community "is becoming increasingly incensed that so many other sports have been openly defaced." There is a feeling that the ACC's announcement "could have been more cleverly and sensitively handled and that, in parts, the threat to sport in general has been overstated." The ACC report "teases with snippets of suggestions of match-fixing." That was followed by news that A$49M ($50.5M) "was wagered in Hong Kong on an A-League match between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide." The inference is that so much betting on an Australian domestic football game "can only mean the fix was on." Betfair bosses said that such figures for a domestic football match "were unsurprising and not at all considered high" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/13).

NRL'S FEARS CALMED: Also in Sydney, Brent Read reported less than a week after the ACC issued its report, five of the six NRL clubs implicated in the report emerged from meetings with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency "confident they had little to fear." While ASADA "declined to reveal the names of players under surveillance," concerns over a slew of casualties "have dramatically eased." NRL side Manly CEO David Perry "appeared at ease with the Sea Eagles' situation." Perry said, "They definitely didn't talk about any names. They didn't give us numbers but they did say (we were) small to medium risk." Asked how his club's risk level was rated by ASADA, North Queensland CEO Peter Jourdain replied: "We're lower" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/13). Also in Sydney, Paul Crawley reported Penrith Panthers GM Phil Gould "has warned NRL fans the investigation into drugs and corruption in rugby league will drag on for months." However, Gould "has appealed to everyone in the game to 'be patient' and understand why there is a need for strict confidentiality." Gould "was outspoken in his criticism" of the ACC report. While not backing away from those comments, Gould said that his briefing Tuesday by the ASADA "had opened his eyes to what is going on in rugby league" -- and why the problem "needs to be fixed right now." Gould said, "Having met with ASADA in a group meeting with the other clubs and privately with ASADA, I have a far better understanding with the issues that they face and the investigation they are conducting. I totally understand that this won't be a short-term process. It will take time, and I also understand the need for confidentiality" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 2/13). Also in Sydney, Richard Hinds reported the NRL "has been torn" between its duty to let the ACC and ASADA investigations "run their course and its responsibility to a group of stakeholders who need no intravenous aid to increase their strength." Club chiefs and respected figures, such as Gould and Newcastle Knights coach Wayne Bennett, have been vocal in their insistence that the NRL ''name names'' to clear the game's reputation. Meanwhile, NRL CEO David Smith "is handcuffed by confidentiality arrangements and ACC and ASADA procedures that prohibit full disclosure." Bennett said, "They want us to confess to something but, like I say, I've been racking my head wondering what they want us to confess to" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 2/13).

KEEPING IT CONFIDENTIAL: In Sydney, Greg Denham reported confidentiality agreements "have prevented Essendon from defending senior coach James Hird against claims by sacked performance scientist Stephen Dank." The club "gagged coaching staff following an explosive interview" with Dank aired on the ABC on Monday night, but not before senior assistant coach Mark Thompson "pleaded his innocence." Thompson said he "felt sorry for a lot of people" after watching the interview. A senior Essendon source said that "government red tape prevented the Bombers from defending staff members." The source claimed "our hands are tied" in supporting Hird, fellow coaches and Reid. The source said, "A bunch of people are being smashed at the moment and it's frustrating for everyone" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/13). In Sydney, Michael Chammas reported the NRL "will encourage players of all grades, past and present, to dob in a doper and salvage the reputation of their organisations." The CEOs of the six clubs under investigation "were reminded that any player who provided substantial assistance would be granted amnesty." Smith "also encouraged players to protect the game by confessing or providing information via the phone hotline the NRL has set up." Smith said, "It's better to step forward if you have information … we will put a second hot-line in place for matters that may or may not be related to criminal activity. Whatever comes out of the allegations, rugby league will be in a better place" (SMH, 2/13). Also in Sydney, Brett Keeble reported Newcastle Knights CEO Matt Gidley said that the ASADA "had cleared" coach Bennett and the club's support staff of any wrongdoing regarding the ACC's report but "stopped short of giving players the same assurance" (SMH, 2/13).

SCIENCE OF CHEATING: In Sydney, Josh Massoud reported the science of cheating “has become so advanced that testers simply cannot detect them.” Tuesday’s inaugural briefing between ASADA and all six NRL clubs implicated in the ACC’s report reiterated that. The methods of Dank were “raised at length” during Tuesday's confidential meeting between ASADA and all the NRL clubs implicated in the ACC’s doping report (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 2/13). In Melbourne, Jon Ralph noted ASADA is “likely to investigate” allegations Essendon coaches used performance-enhancing substances, despite the AFL's drug code applying only to players. Essendon “refused to confirm or deny” substance use by any member of its coaching department, following allegations by sacked club biochemist Dank. An AFL spokesperson said that ASADA's investigation was “wide-ranging and could include those allegations.” The spokesperson said, "The code only applies to players within the club, not coaches or officials. I would imagine everything alleged on the 7:30 (interview) would form part of the investigation to varying degrees" (HERALD SUN, 2/13).

INNOCENT BYSTANDER: In Auckland, Brown & Michael reported the New Zealand Rugby League has become an interested bystander. There are “a number of New Zealand players who are at the six clubs or have played there recently,” including Kieran Foran, Jeremy Smith, Sam McKendry, Dean Whare, Lewis Brown, Sika Manu, Jason Taumalolo and Antonio Winterstein. The NZRL is “keen to find out what it might mean” with the Kiwis due to defend the World Cup later this year in the U.K. and France. NZRL High Performance Manager Tony Kemp said, "We know as much as the NRL know, so we are in constant contact with them. Obviously the majority of our Kiwis come out of the NRL, so we want to be kept in the loop. I'm talking to the NRL every couple of days, but they only know so much as well (NEW ZEALAND HERALD, 2/12). The NEW ZEALAND HERALD reported the NRL New Zealand Warriors have confirmed the club has had no contact with any agencies in regard to the ACC investigation. Warriors CEO Wayne Scurruh said that the club “had not heard” from the ACC, ASADA or the NRL. Scurruh said, "We have had no contact and prefer to leave any statements to the NRL” (NZH, 2/12).

Home Affairs Bureau Deputy Secretary Jonathan McKinley said that a $2M grant from the government to the Hong Kong Tennis Association "could be the first step towards the city boasting a bigger venue to host major tournaments," according to Alvin Sallay of SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST. Hong Kong "bought its way back on to the world circuit by tying up" with the WTA to stage an int'l event in Sept. '14 at Victoria Park. The event will be a WTA tier three tournament the week after next year's U.S. Open. It is believed that the government "had even been willing to support a men's professional tournament, but had to settler for a WTA event because of the unavailability of an ATP license on the market." Hong Kong "will officially own the women's tournament," which has been held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia since '10. In addition to the $2M grant to purchase the license, "the government will also put up $250,000 toward prize money for the tournament, which will be a 32-strong draw plus a 24-strong qualifying draw (SCMP, 2/12). 

The Badminton World Federation has declared it will be making "tens of millions" in revenue, according to THE STAR. Badminton Association of Malaysia Secretary Ng Chin Chai hopes that BWF would channel some of it to the annual World Championships as prize money "in a bid to make the tournament more appealing." The world meet is held annually and is the second most prestigious tournament in the BWF calendar after the Olympics. However, it "does not offer prize money." Chin Chai said that it was "high time" that it introduced prize money. Chin Chai said, "It's great to hear that BWF are making money. Finally, the world body can think about offering prize money for the World Championships" (THE STAR, 2/12).

New Zealand "is open-minded to a possible expansion of Super Rugby but have 'non-negotiable' elements" to its thinking, according to Duncan Johnstone of the DOMINION POST. With New Zealand hosting the next Lions tour, in '17, rugby officials "will watch with interest how the structure works though." NZ Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew pointed out, "there were no guarantees Super Rugby would look the same by then." The current model runs out in '15, and already governing body Sanzar "has started workshops and meetings to get a feel for where the massively attractive competition might head." About where Super Rugby might head, Tew made it clear that his organization was "willing to entertain options" but was also "firm in protecting both its own market and also the success and integrity of what had been built since it was launched" in '96. Tew said, "We haven't drawn any lines through anything. The only thing we are adamant about is that we don't want any more rugby for our guys. We think our guys have got enough on their plates as it is. So we have to manage their workload." Tew said New Zealand had made it clear it had things it thinks "are non-negotiable." Tew said, "One is that the workload doesn't increase, two is that we don't do anything to devalue the commercial strength of our competitions and, thirdly, they have to remain sufficiently competitive" (DOMINION POST, 2/13).

Welsh Rugby Union CEO Roger Lewis has said that "the funding debate for the four regions will not be decided by a small minority," according to ISPORTCONNECT. The Professional Regional Game Board "was set up last year with the possibility of two of the four regions gaining extra funding, but the idea has been met with scepticism from clubs who feel they may lose out." Lewis said: "The most important thing is that whatever we do, we have to get it right for Welsh rugby and make sure that all our clubs are convinced that it is the right solution." Lewis confirmed that the talks "were in the early stages and that no decision would be made without agreement on all sides." He added: "We have a participation agreement with the four regions that runs until June 2014, so we’ve got plenty of time to get this right" (ISPORTCONNECT, 2/12).