Essendon scandal: The cost of doping in sport

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 13 January 2016

Doping scandals in sport are nothing new, but what makes the Essendon case intriguing is the sheer scale of the offence and the fact it happened to one of Australia's most popular and recognisble sports brands.

Doping is more commonly associated with the murky world of professional cycling than it is with team sports like AFL.

While there are obvious sporting and health concerns about doping, the effects in the world of business and commerce are potentially huge. Sponsorship, TV rights and employment issues are just a few that are often dragged through mud once doping hits the headlines.

Percy Wilman, the associate editor of World Sports Law Report in the UK, has written extensively about doping.

He tells AdNews the Essendon doping scandal, in which 12 players have been suspended for a year for taking a banned substance, could have a greater impact on the club than the loss of rostered players and being competitive on the field.

“From a commercial perspective, it should be expected that sponsors will either activate reputation break clauses (which is a standard insert in these type of contracts) or will request further controls from club administrators to guarantee all doping regulations are observed hereon,” Wilman says.

Companies will think twice about being associated with individuals or sports where there may be a doping culture.There are a few examples of sponsors reacting to a doping culture within a team, but the most high profile are in cycling.

“The most noteworthy case is the sponsor debacle after the Lance Armstrong scandal that affected not only the cyclist (he lost contracts said to be worth $75 million, but also lost the support Nike gave to his charity, Livestrong), but the Tour de France itself,” Wilman says.

“It is claimed that other sponsors involved in the competition (either as sponsors of the tour or of competing teams) pulled the plug after the Armstrong case of systemic doping became public (Rabobank, US Postal Service, RadioShack).”

To minimise the damage, Wiman believes administrators should not question the ruling and act swiftly.

“It would be advisable to incorporate new controls within the club to guarantee this will never happen again, promote a drug-free environment for athletes and reassure fans and sponsors the club will not condone or accept any further breaches,” he says.

Another question the scandal raises is around education and drug control policies.

“Questions arise on the whistleblower policies in Australian sport, the out of competition controls and what type of measures will the AFL take to prevent future situations like the Essendon club case,” Wilman says.

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