The World Anti-Doping Agency has announced that it will not appeal against the sanctions imposed on Cronulla Sharks players for breaches of the anti-doping rules of the National Rugby League. However, WADA raised concerns about handling of the matter.
In a statement, WADA said it had reviewed the cases and decided not to challenge the leniency of sentences imposed on Cronulla captain Paul Gallen and 11 current or former Sharks teammates. WADA added it is however not entirely satisfied with the outcome of this case. In August this year, some Cronulla Sharks players accepted backdated 12-month bans that ruled them out of the sport for a period of three months and mostly during the off-season of NRL. This sanction was imposed after the players admitted that they "unwittingly" used performance-enhancing substances the supplements program of the club in 2011.
The World Anti-Doping Agency remarked the backdating of the sanctions that reduced the practical period of the imposed suspensions were not attributable to any action or lack of action on the part of the players. WADA added that the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) had done nothing to expedite the case "for many months" after it completed its investigation in November 2013. WADA also remarked there was a further delay until the ASADA files were reviewed by a government-appointed retired judge.
The statement said there is no explanation for the continued inaction from ASADA following the receipt of the (judge's) report in April, 2014 until steps were formally taken by ASADA in August, 2014. It added it is this last aspect of the sanctioning process that required close review and added that full scrutiny of the file revealed that the number of delays were directly the result of the lack of activity or decision by either ASADA or the Australian government. WADA remarked the Australian Government decided, for reasons it considered appropriate, to appoint a retired judge (Garry Downes) to review the ASADA files. It took some months for Downes to complete his task in early April 2014. It added an appeal by WADA against the light suspensions would not advance the fight against doping in any meaningful way.
Athletes in Olympic sports criticized the light suspensions handed out to NRL players. However, WADA that had the option of taking the issue to the Court of Arbitration for Sport said an appeal would not advance the fight against doping in any meaningful way.
The banned substances were also given to players from Essendon, the Australian Football League club. Players from both Essendon and Cronulla Sharks have denied they were aware of the fact that the supplements were in violation of WADA rules, but some coaches and officials from both teams were suspended by NRL and AFL (Australian Football League).
Lawyer Richard Redman, who represented the vast majority of the Cronulla players, remarked any lingering doubt people may harbor that the delays in this lengthy process are attributable to the players can finally be put to bed.
The suspended players, including Cronulla and NSW captain Paul Gallen, are due to return on November 22.