The widespread drug use by elite athletes and links with organized crime uncovered in a year-long 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 as he fronted a news conference in Canberra, the national capital, to reveal 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" on Thursday, 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 organized criminal groups in the distribution of performance and image enhancing drugs.
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. Other high-profile sports are doing the same. A state police force has suspicions about a recent soccer match which attracted heavy betting and seemingly unusual attention from Asia.
"This is the blackest day in Australian sport," Richard Ings, the former chief of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency, told the national broadcaster.
Illicit drug use by professional athletes was more common in the bigger sports than current drugs testing programs 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.
Details of individuals and clubs involved couldn't be released publicly, the ACC said, but certain sports had been given classified briefings and the report findings had been forwarded to the Australian Federal Police and state police forces.
The ACC revelations come in the same week that prominent AFL club Essendon asked authorities to investigate the use of certain supplements used in its 2012 fitness program, and European police agency Europol revealed evidence of hundreds of cases of match fixing in soccer around the world. The ACC report contained various references to U.S. cyclist 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's findings.