Widespread drug use by elite athletes and links with organised crime uncovered in a yearlong Australian government investigation have rocked a nation that prides itself on its sporting achievements and its collective notion of fair play.
"The findings are shocking and will disgust Australian sports fans," Justice Minister Jason Clare said at a news conference in Canberra, the capital.
He revealed that "multiple athletes from a number of clubs" in the big professional leagues are suspected of using or having used performance-enhancing substances.
The Australian Crime Commission released the findings of 'Project Aperio' yesterday, saying there was evidence of at least one potential case of match-fixing, widespread use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs, and the infiltration of organised criminal groups in the distribution of performance and image-enhancing drugs.
"This is the blackest day in Australian sport," Richard Ings, the former chief of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency, told the national broadcaster.
The country's two most popular sports competitions, the Aussie rules Australian Football League and the National Rugby League, have already acknowledged they're working with the ACC and have launched independent investigations.
Illicit drug use by professional athletes was more common in the bigger sports than current drugs-testing programmes suggested, the ACC report noted, adding that some coaches, sports scientists and support staff had "orchestrated and/or condoned the use of prohibited substances" that sometimes weren't even cleared for use on humans and were beyond conventional anti-doping testing.
NO DETAILS AS YET
The ACC said it couldn't release details of individuals or clubs involved for legal reasons, but it had given classified briefings to some sports and reported its findings to the federal and state police.
The ACC revelations come in the same week that prominent AFL club Essendon asked authorities to investigate the use of supplements used in its 2012 fitness programme, and European police agency Europol alleged hundreds of cases of match-fixing in football around the world.
The ACC report contained various references to Lance Armstrong and the sophisticated and systemic doping that wasn't formally detected during his long professional career.
World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey, who has served as a state and federal politician in Australia, said he was alarmed but not surprised by the ACC report.