24th May 2017

Australia considers National Integrity Tribunal for sport

Australian Minister for Sport Greg Hunt has discussed the idea of a National Integrity Tribunal with sports governing bodies, which he said could avoid the arguments about conflict of interest that have dogged Australian sport over the handling of the Essendon supplements saga. “I believe that the notion of sports sitting in judgement of themselves is something that we should move beyond”, said Hunt in a press conference following the Federal Government’s launch of the National Sports Plan.

“Now, I’ve discussed this with various sports and at this stage, there is early but broadly supportive commitment to something such as a National Integrity Tribunal or Commission”, he continued. “I think that would allow us to avoid the situation where the AFL had to sit in judgement of itself in relation to the Essendon doping case. I discussed this in brief with the AFL, and we’ll use the sports plan process to consider what should be a National Integrity Commission, but my view is that this is the right direction and I believe it will actually be a source of comfort for individual sports.”

Hunt said that any Integrity Commission would be launched on an “opt-in” basis, so that it wouldn’t overrule integrity commissions that bodies such as the Australian Football League (AFL) or National Rugby League (NRL) already have in place. “I don’t think the AFL feels that the previous circumstance was satisfactory having had some discussions, and I think that if there is the equivalent of a Court of Arbitration of Australian Sport, a National Integrity Tribunal as part of a National Integrity Commission, that would be the best way forward”.

As previously reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative, there are deep concerns about the way in which the Essendon supplements situation was handled. Senator Nick Xenophon has called for a public inquiry. The Justice for the 34 Campaign alleges that the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) decision to issue backdated two-year plans to the 34 Essendon players is flawed.

Although the CAS discounted the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) attempt to show the presence of Thymosin Beta-4 in a player’s sample in its judgment, it found that circumstantial evidence was strong enough for the players to be convicted. It came to this decision after receiving evidence from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA). It therefore reversed the AFL’s decision to clear the players.

The issue revolves around the fact that there is little clarity about whether the AFL or CAS decision – which are polar opposites – was the right one to take. Justice for the 34 legitimately argues that there is no evidence that any of the players were administered the substance in question. However, on the other hand, the CAS ruling appears to be based on the 34 players signing consent forms regarding the administration of substances via injection.

‘On 12 February 2012, the Essendon players attended a meeting a the club auditorium’, read the CAS ruling. ‘Either at the meeting or shortly thereafter, the vast majority of players signed “patient information/informed consent” forms in which they consented to the administration of four substances including AOD-9064 and “Thymosin” by way of injections. It was asserted in the form that the proposed treatment was WADA compliant.’ ASADA argues that none of the players declared the injections during 30 testing missions.

The reason that there is a call for this situation to be investigated is that there is no clarity on whether that consent resulted in the administration of Thymosin Beta-4 to Essendon players. It also appears that the ‘Thymosin’ referred to on the forms may not have been prohibited. In a July 2012 email, ASADA asked WADA if it had considered the prohibited status of thymomodulin.  ‘The List Committee discussed thymosin beta-4 and considered it prohibited under S2.5’, reads WADA’s response. ‘It is not clear what type of thymosin thymomodulin is. Thymosin alpha is an immunomodulator and unrelated to thymosin beta-4.’

Hunt’s call for a National Integrity Tribunal for sport is an admission that the outcome of the Essendon supplements case was not a satisfactory one. The confusion outlined above appears to be a situation that the Australian government is keen to avoid in the future.

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