Operation Cobia

As early as 2010 we were becoming aware of significant increases in the detection of Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs (PIEDs) at the Australian border and commenced an intelligence and investigation exercise into possible links with Australian sport. This exercise became known as Operation Cobia.

While gathering intelligence, we identified possible criminal links and this information was referred to the Australian Crime Commission (ACC).

On 7 February 2013, the ACC released the findings of its 12-month investigation into the integrity of Australian sport and the relationship between professional sporting bodies, prohibited substances and organised crime. The ACC investigation (codenamed Project Aperio) was carried out with the support of ASADA and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Among the ACC's key findings was the use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs in professional sport. This use had been facilitated by sports scientists, high-performance coaches and sports staff. In some cases, players were allegedly administered with substances that had not yet been approved for human use.

At the conclusion of its investigation the ACC referred its findings of potential anti-doping rule violations to us and we commenced our own formal investigation as required under legislation.

The 16-month investigation was both complex and wide-ranging. 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 a massive undertaking when you consider comparable anti-doping investigations conducted here and overseas.

 

Operation Cobia overview

'Show cause' notices issued by ASADA
Notices issued Total
AFL players 34
NRL players 19
Support personnel 3
Operation Cobia combined 56
Register of Findings entries (by the Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel)
Sport Total
AFL 35
NRL 20
Sanctions imposed
Sport Sanction length Number of sanctions
NRL 12 months 12

 

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 programmes
    • 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 (245% increase since 2011­–12).