Drugs in Sport

27 Oct 2013

Since the Australian Crime Commission report into Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport was released in February the issue of drugs in sport has been at the forefront of Australian Media and the subject of much public debate.

We asked our experts to give us their opinion on the long term effects of the drugs in sport scandal.

What lasting impacts do you believe the recent drugs in sport scandals will have on professional sport in Australia?

Dr Sarah Kelly, Senior Lecturer in Marketing Director MBA Program UQ Business School

The impacts of the Australian Crime Commission report have been extensive, and there is potential for it to continue to affect Australian sport over the next five years. The secrecy surrounding the report, and the uncertainty resulting from the continuing investigation has implicated all sports at all levels across Australia, despite evidence suggesting that perpetrators are confined to particular clubs, codes and team advisors. An immediate impact has been implicated clubs’ ability to attract and maintain sponsorship funding, with timing of the report coinciding with several sponsorship renewal negotiations. In the longer term, the scandal will see a shift of sponsorship investment from sports to the arts and non-profit sectors, and this will directly affect viability of some clubs and sports, in addition to sporting participation. Global media attention to the report has potential to affect broadcast rights valuation, growth of audience and international sponsorship support. The breadth of the allegations suggests long term tarnishment of the reputation of all Australian sports and sporting brands will take longer to recover in international markets than the fiercely loyal local market. The governance response from sporting entities will be critical in limiting long term harm to Australian sport, as the scandal will be an opportunity for sports to examine and rectify the negative drug culture that appears to permeate some codes or clubs. Perpetrators will need to be identified and punished to ensure that a strong message is sent to national and global audiences that this conduct is not tolerated in Australian sports. It is important to emphasise that the report’s blanket allegations have resulted in a grave injustice to the majority of Australian sports, which must now suffer the uncertainty and implication by association, while the investigation continues.

Mr Tim Fuller, visiting academic
TC Beirne School of Law
Lawyer and former professional NRL player

The ongoing drugs in sport investigation has changed the landscape of sport in this country indefinitely. Whilst the focus has been on athletes, it has largely overlooked the role that administrators, coaches and other sporting personnel have played. Evidence is emerging that people in these roles have been implicated in relation to provision of prohibited substances to athletes. The process of how a sporting organisation operates will be the lasting legacy from the drugs in sport scandal. The anticipated charges and resulting sanctions of athletes found to have used prohibited substances will not be the end of drugs in sport. Certain athletes will always try and avoid a ‘level playing field’ and will look for any advantage. The roles and responsibilities of administrators and organisations will be where the scrutiny turns to. Legal action in this area will be the ‘fertile ground’ for lawyers.


Professor Paul Frijters
UQ School of Economics

The long-term impacts will be low as the search for socially unaccepted advantages has been with sports ever since the ancient Greeks started to give big prizes to winners of their Olympic games. The current set of scandals is just the latest instalment, saying more about how regulators are catching up with the doctors helping athletes than the innate behaviour of those athletes. In the future, elite sportsmen and sportswomen will face another layer of rules and restrictions, probably including blood passports. The layers of regulation and bureaucracy around sports will get a boost in numbers and powers on the back of the story that their roles is to ensure a clean and healthy top sports. The general public will soon again be allowed to believe in healthy top sports, even though that is a contradiction in terms because elite sports is very unhealthy for the body anyway, whilst in the background the perennial search for any small advantage over the competition will continue. The stricter that Australian regulators enforce the new rules on Australian athletes, the fewer of those athletes will win.


Drugs have historically had a significant influence on sport and will continue to do so for some time to come if recent research is any guide. While most would accept that drug taking for performance enhancement is effectively cheating, the line is blurring somewhat in the minds of many as a growing number of individuals use drugs for recreational purposes. The increasing commercialisation and commodification of sports, aligned with a changing societal expectation of what is “fair play”, has meant that sports administrators will need to rethink some of the current strategies by which athletes are educated on the issue. While agencies such as the World Anti- Doping Agency (WADA) are charged with improving the performance parity and ensuring the social value of sport remains, the harsh reality that sport truly has become a major form of entertainment and an area of growing business interest will bring it into conflict with some commercial interests. Rich rewards by way of commercial endorsements and substantial appearance fees for the elite level athlete has meant that the pressure on individuals to use various forms of drugs is actually increasing.