Lundy rejects doubts on ASADA independence

A STINGING assessment of Australia’s recent record of exposing drug cheats in sport, from one of the nation’s leading anti-doping experts, has been rebuked by the federal Sports Minister.

Dr Michael Ashenden, an expert in blood doping who has worked for the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the International Cycling Union, said Australia had ”rested on its laurels” since the Sydney Olympics.

Questioning the autonomy of ASADA – a suggestion Sport Minister Kate Lundy strongly rejected – Ashenden said the Australian government ”should be embarrassed about its track record on anti-doping”.

Describing ASADA, who he has worked for and advised, as a body with ”exciting potential”, Ashenden said ”for some reason things just haven’t clicked and the results they’ve produced so far have been pretty modest”.

”I think the Australian government has rested on its laurels since the Sydney Olympics … an era when it was quite rightly regarded as a world leader in anti-doping.

”Since then, nothing startling has come from Australia. In fact nowadays we are out of step on important issues, such as the debate about zero tolerance toward past drug use by athletes and support staff. I think the Australian government should be embarrassed about its track record on anti-doping.

”Australia is an international laughing stock regarding how our favourite son Shane Warne was treated when he was found to have used a diuretic.

”In the last 13 years since our lab has been able to detect EPO, we have found just one Australian athlete who blood doped. Frankly that is ridiculous. It seems to me either we’re a nation of angels, or we’re not doing what it takes to catch the cheats.”

Ashenden regards the US Anti-Doping Agency as ”far and away” the world’s best.

”A crucial difference is that USADA are autonomous, whereas ASADA must ultimately answer to our minister for sport,” he said.

”I worry that situation presents a conflict of interest, because public servants are obligated to serve their minister and the last thing a minister for sport wants is a doping scandal.”

Senator Lundy refuted Ashenden’s claim about ASADA’s autonomy, saying: ”These comments show a complete lack of regard for the legislative independence of ASADA and its testing and investigations of athletes.

”The most recent work by ASADA and the ACC [Australian Crime Commission] is proof that the Australian government is committed to deal with the serious issues confronting the integrity of Australian sport.

”As a government organisation, ASADA is arguably more accountable to taxpayers who invest significantly in Australian sport than a private organisation ever could be.”

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