AUSTRALIA'S top sporting codes have been rocked by revelations that organised crime is behind the increasing use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by ''multiple athletes'' across sporting codes and possible attempts to fix matches and manipulate betting markets.
The heads of all the main professional and participation sports expressed shock after being briefed on a 12-month investigation by the Australian Crime Commission that found professional sport in Australia was ''highly vulnerable to organised crime infiltration''.
Police are pursuing evidence that some coaches, sports scientists and support staff at clubs have orchestrated or condoned the use of banned drugs and that organised crime figures distributed the drugs.
The probe, code-named Project Aperio, revealed personal relationships between professional athletes and organised criminal identities and groups that might ''have resulted in match fixing and the fraudulent manipulation of betting markets''.
It has emerged that one potential case of match fixing in an unspecified sport is already being investigated. There is also evidence that one sporting club doped an entire team with a group of performance-enhancing drugs called peptides.
The investigation found ''clear parallels'' between what it uncovered and the investigation by the US anti-doping agency into disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. ''The difference is that the Australian threat is current, crosses sporting codes and is evolving,'' a report concluded.
The commission chief executive, John Lawler, said on Thursday he was hopeful criminal charges would be laid but refused to be drawn on which individuals, clubs or codes were being investigated or when inquiries by state and federal police would be completed.
Federal ministers urged those with knowledge of unethical or illegal behaviour to come forward, saying co-operation may lead to less severe sanctions. ''Don't underestimate how much we know and, if you are involved in this, come forward before you get a knock at the door,'' said the Justice Minister, Jason Clare, adding that the revelations would disgust sports fans.
Mr Clare said ''multiple athletes'' from a number of clubs were suspected of using or having used performance-enhancing drugs and club officials had been identified as ''administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances".
The government has introduced legislation to increase the powers of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority so that those who refuse to co-operate will be liable to civil penalties.
Sporting codes have agreed to establish integrity units to deal with doping; to call on their athletes to co-operate with investigators; to share information across codes; and to show ''zero tolerance'' for support staff involved in ''peddling inappropriate substances''.
James Sutherland, the chairman of the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, said the sports would leave ''no stone unturned'' to restore integrity to sport.
The AFL chief executive, Andrew Demetriou, vowed to increase resources to combat a new generation of performance-enhancing drugs known as peptides that have similar effects to anabolic steroids, and the NRL immediately said it had employed a former Federal Court judge, Tony Whitlam, to set up an integrity compliance unit.
But the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, John Fahey, said sporting codes would need to respond to the challenge. ''The organisations themselves have to ask a lot of these questions of themselves.''
The former head of ASADA, Richard Ings, said: ''This is not a black day in Australian sport, this is the blackest day.''
Big sponsors have already signalled their concern at the commission's findings. The chief executive of Telstra, David
Thodey, which recently paid $50 million for the five-year naming rights of the NRL, said he would look at the detail of the report. ''Our brand image is very tightly tied up with those who we sponsor so if there is untoward behaviour that we don't agree with we make our position very clear.''
The independent senator Nick Xenephon called for an immediate suspension of sports betting: "These extraordinary findings require an urgent response to protect the integrity of sporting codes.''