Australia was one of the first countries in the world to provide its national anti-doping body with the ability to investigate possible doping violations in sport.
Our legislation allows us to investigate possible violations of anti-doping rules to determine whether there is evidence of an anti-doping rule violation as defined by the National Anti-Doping (NAD) scheme and the World Anti-Doping Code.
We examine all credible allegations or information of doping in a Code-compliant sport. However, an allegation or intelligence on its own is not enough to bring about a violation under the World Anti-Doping Code. To do this we are required to turn intelligence into evidence of a possible breach of the NAD scheme or relevant anti-doping policy of a sport.
The Australian Government Investigations Standards 2011 establishes the minimum standards for Australian Government agencies conducting investigations. All of our investigations are conducted in accordance with the standards.
As a general principle we will not talk about ongoing investigations. We are focused on protecting the rights of athletes and support persons in accordance with our legislation. The ASADA Act and National Anti-Doping scheme have clear and tight controls to protect the privacy of people throughout an investigation.
Length of investigations
The process of turning intelligence into evidence of a possible breach of the NAD scheme or relevant anti-doping policy of a sport can be lengthy and is eventually subject to legal challenges.
The pace of the investigation can also be influenced by a range of factors:
- The level of assistance that ASADA receives from individuals.
- Misinformation in the public domain.
- Requirement to open up new lines of inquiry as a result of information from sources.
We have a duty of care to be both thorough and accurate in every step of the process. It is important that investigations run their course, in part to ensure that all the available information is gathered, but also to ensure that the rights of the athletes and support personnel are protected.
After an investigation
Following an investigation, the process will involve an assessment of the evidence by ASADA, a review by the independent Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel (ADRVP), and a hearing by a Sports Tribunal and/or the Court of Arbitration for Sport. At various points the athlete or support person can proceed to a hearing, or waive their right to a hearing, or appeal decisions made by these bodies.
Timeframes for the completion of this process can vary. Every case is unique and a number of factors can influence the direction and length of a case, including hearings and appeal periods.
The sensitivity that surrounds allegations of doping can affect the reputation and career of an athlete or support person. It is for this reason we will choose not to discuss the specifics of an ongoing case or investigation, unless a situation warrants it.
Ultimately, our investigations are about protecting athlete health and welfare, as well as ensuring Australian sport is free of doping. It is about ensuring the health of young people participating in sport and where experimentation with questionable substances does not become the norm.
Amendments to the ASADA Act came into effect on 1 August 2013. Key to the legislative changes was the enhancement to our intelligence-gathering and investigation capacity. When necessary the ASADA CEO will now be able to require someone to assist with an investigation by issuing a notice (to be known as a disclosure notice).
This notice can require a person to do one, or more of the following:
- attend an interview to answer questions
- give information
- produce documents or things.
The ASADA CEO can only issue a disclosure notice if they reasonably believe the person has information, documents or things that may be relevant to the administration of the NAD scheme. A notice may only be issued if three members of the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel agree in writing that the belief of the CEO is reasonable.
Established in 2011 as an intelligence-gathering exercise into possible doping in two of Australia's professional sporting codes, the AFL and NRL, Operation Cobia formally commenced interviews and gathering evidence in February 2013. The primary evidence gathering phase was concluded in January 2014.
Our investigators conducted more than 300 formal interviews with witnesses and persons of interest while over 160,000 documents were searched, copied and analysed for relevant evidence.
Operation Cobia was extremely complex and protracted. The difficulty was compounded by key persons of interest, with the knowledge of the distribution of substances to athletes, declining to co-operate with the investigation. This lack of cooperation compelled us to continue our investigation and gathering of evidence, and then rely on the new disclosure notice provisions to require uncooperative people to assist with the investigation.
Changes in sport as a result of the investigation
There have been many positive changes in sport as a result of Operation Cobia and Project Aperio, including:
- Establishment of integrity units and networks across a number of sports.
- Sports changing their practices
- no needles policies
- employment arrangements
- improved testing programs
- enhancement of anti-doping policies to require athletes and support personnel to cooperate in investigations.
- Changes to the ASADA Act in 2013 which enhanced our powers to compel people to assist with an investigation.
- The importance of intelligence-gathering and investigations to anti-doping efforts has been acknowledged with the inclusion of these functions in the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code.
- Increased uptake of anti-doping education in Australia.