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Doping Scandals in Australian Sport


Sporting organizations have featured severally in various scandals involving the handling of athletes and use of performance-enhancing drugs. In the Australian Football League (AFL), two doping scandals featuring Cronulla and Essendon have ruined the reputations of the clubs and the people associated with them raising the question of how well the Australian sports establishments handle issues of risk management, workplace safety, and corporate governance. A closer look at the two cases reveals that the clubs prioritize performance at all costs, an approach that is reckless and dangerous for the players. A critical analysis of the doping cases seeks to address the key learnings from the Australian sport in terms of a) risk management, b) workplace safety, and c) organizational governance. The paper supports the argument that the financial incentives in Australian sport demand high performance which is the primary reason why scandals emerge.

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Risk Management

One key lesson is that risk management in the Australian sport seems to be non-existent considering the recklessness of various AFL clubs in handling issues such as substance abuse. Instead of risk management practices, Australian sport arguably adopts ‘risk-taking’ practices to achieve their goals. The desire for winning has been used to explain the carefree deeds in sports. According to Chen, Buggy, and Kelly (2019), professional athletes often expose themselves to injury threats that lead to long term health problems. The behavior is more apparent in high-performance sports where winning is the top priority. However, it is not winning that prompts the careless actions as the commercial outcomes are a greater motivator of sporting malpractices. The high-performance sports require the teams to put in place measures to improve performance. According to Smith and Smolianov (2016), there is a direct correlation between performance and economic impact in elite competitions. Players’ wages and the clubs’ financial wellbeing are the major elements of economic impact.

The lack of proper risk management in Australian sport is further explained by the lack of adequate research on the subject not only in Australia but also across the world. Chen et al. (2019) reveal that injury risks are high in sport and yet the sporting organizations lack adequate risk management practices to address the problem. The cases of Cronulla and Essendon indicate that besides the lack of risk management frameworks, Australian sports make sport perilous through greater exposure to harm for the players. The need for high performance has seen the clubs resort to drugs and in so doing subjecting the athletes to injury and the entities to other risks such as reputation. The link between drugs and injury in sport has been established by the Foundations Recovery Network (2015) who cite outcomes such as the body going to shock or shutting down completely. The detrimental effects of using performance-enhancing drugs include kidney damage, high blood pressure, heart problems, and liver diseases that include cancer. The risks involved in doping, therefore, are life-threatening health issues.

The lack of adequate risk management mechanisms leaves the clubs exposed to other perils, including reputation management risks. It can be learned that doping reflects the fact that Australian sport hardly subscribes to the spirit of fair play (Mudrak, Slepicka & Slepickova, 2018). The clubs’ reputation does not matter and is not prioritized. Sports-related incidences have become a major appearance on social media where scandals lead to public shaming of those involved (Kitchin, Paramio-Salcines & Walters, 2020). Athletes, coaches, and other staff members cannot hide from the public because the social networking sites spread the awful news faster than the mainstream media. The two clubs did not bother to use social media to address the reputation management concerns resulting from the scandal. The failure to manage reputation shows a lack of concern for reputation or risk management framework to mitigate the damage of their reputation.

In light of the major risks involved in sport, including injury risks and reputation risks, it can be learned that the Australian sport pursues financial incentives more than other objectives. The clubs have adopted risk-taking behaviors where winning cannot be the main motif. A critical question would be, if anyone argued that winning is the primary objective, why would players risk long-term health injuries and why would anyone ruin their reputation just to win. The argument here is that money sounds like the only logical answer to the question. Due to overemphasis on pursuing monetary gains, the clubs fail to implement adequate risk management practices and frameworks.

Workplace Safety

The injury risks are best discussed in terms of workplace health and safety where the main lesson is that Australian sport is not keen on enforcing workplace safety. According to Chen et al. (2019), sporting injuries are categorized as occupational injuries because the players are employees of the clubs who are paid to offer sporting services. Across the world, workplace safety rules require all injuries to be reported to management. In some sports, harm to the players is a secondary concern that comes after the performance. Some players fail to report injuries thus missing out on treatment. The problem is not entirely on the players not wanting to miss game time. However, some players fail to realize they have been hurt or fail to acknowledge the seriousness of the harm. Doping presents a particularly serious occupational injury risk due to the fact that the players seeking to enhance their performance will not recognize their injuries soon enough. Allowing doping to take place in sport makes it a hazardous working environment for the athletes.

The AFL clubs can be blamed for the lack of workplace safety for different reasons. Firstly, some players in Cronulla claimed they did not know that they were engaging in doping leaving speculations that they consumed the illegal substances against their will (Fox Sports, 2016). However, the players did not appear keen cooperating with Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) even after the club finally admitting to doping practices. The logical explanation for the scenario is that the players are responsible for lack of workplace safety since they fail to adhere to workplace safety regulations and intently engage in risky behaviors. Secondly, in professional sports athletes intend to make sports their career from which they aspire to reap as much income as possible. Great professionals earn great pay for great performances from their clubs. Lastly, the clubs’ role in the degradation of workplace safety is explained by the fact that the clubs also gain financially when the player performances are great. Australian sport will remain dangerous working places for players as long as money remains the primary inducement.

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Another vital lesson is that the current regulatory framework cannot handle issues relating to workplace safety in the Australian sport. Consider how the Essendon saga developed and how ASADA undertakes to enforce its regulations. Drugs are hardly considered as a risk factor for unsafe workplaces in AFL. The main reason for enforcing anti-doping is to keep all clubs on a level playing ground rather than to protect the wellbeing of the players. ASADA has implemented a self-reporting regime where clubs can choose to exploit lack of oversight, a point proven by the fact that doping was only discovered after an investigation by ASADA (Farrar & Faunce, 2017). The argument herein is that there is generally a lack of oversight and government policies governing workplace safety in the Australian sport. Alongside risk management, therefore, Australian sport lacks the proper frameworks and policies to ensure the safety of the players.

Organizational Governance

The scandals in sports are rampant across the globe with the governing bodies being among the key culprits. Their legitimacy has thus been questioned whenever corruption and similar cases emerge (Parent & Hoye, 2018). Governance lessons from the Cronulla and Essendon doping cases have been examined by Thai, Birt, Turner, and Fenech (2015) who question the ownership structures and the stakeholders and their role in the drug scandals. These authors express that the commercialization of sport plays a vital role in the governance shortcoming in sporting organizations. Their argument supports the position taken in this paper with the boards seen as pursuing self-interests at the expense of the interests of the players and other stakeholders. There are arguments that war on drugs in sporting will never be won. The literature quoted by Thai et al. (2015) plainly states the financial stakes are an extremely powerful incentive for sporting malpractices that include performance-enhancing drugs. The lesson here is that best practices in corporate governance in Australian sport has suffered since sport became commercial and clubs started adopting business-like operating models.

By definition, governance entails how entities are managed and directed and it influences how the organizations set and pursue goals. In other words, the running of entities, including aspects such as decision making, performance, and risk management are determined by the governance framework. Governance failures have resulted in massive crises most of which involve finances. In sports, poor governance results in clubs engaging in activities such as investing in risky ventures (Thai et al., 2015). In the context of Australian sport, the governance frameworks pursue financial gain though high performance and engage in illegal activities of boosting performance.


Australian sport is commercialized making the financial stakes high for the stakeholders involved. The fiscal interests of both the clubs and players are the major cause of the doping scandals among other corruption cases in Australian Sport. Although there is little evidence to link the scandals to monetary gains, there lacks a more logical explanation. The lessons from Australian sport in terms of risk management include that AFL clubs lack proper risk management frameworks with the result being a huge exposure to risks. The insufficiency of risk management practices is coupled with risk-taking behaviors that tend to multiply the dangers involved. In terms of workplace safety, the clubs and players are to blame for the lack of best practices, frameworks and policies for enhancing workplace safety. Lastly, the organizational governance pursues financial interests and fails to offer direction to the clubs. The scandals and corruption cases in Australian sport are, therefore, the result of poor governance.


Chen, Y., Buggy, C., & Kelly, S. (2019). Winning at all costs: A review of risk-taking behaviour and sporting injury from an occupational safety and health perspective. Sports Medicine, 5(15). Web.

Farrar, M., & Faunce, T. (2017). The Essendon Football CLub supplements saga: Exploring natural justice for team sanctions within anti-doping regulations. Journal of Law and Medicine, 24(3), 565-575. Web.

Foundations Recovery Network. (2015). The risk of drug use during physical activities. Web.

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Fox Sports. (2016). Tale of two clubs: How Essendon Bombers and Cronulla Sharks suffered vasty different fate.  Web.

Kitchin, P., Paramio-Salcines, J., & Walters, G. (2020). Managing organizational reputation in response to a public shaming campaign. Sport Management Review, 23(1), 66-80. Web.

Mudrak, J., Slepicka, P., & Slepickova, I. (2018). Sport motivation and doping in adolescent athletes. PLoS One, 13(10). Web.

Parent, M., & Hoye, R. (2018). The impact of governance principles on sport organisations’ governance practices and performance: A systematic review. Cogent Social Sciences, 4(1), 1-24. Web.

Smith, J., & Smolianov, P. (2016). The high performance management model: From olympic and professional to university sport in the United States. The Sport Journal. Web.

Thai, P., Birt, J., Turner, M., & Fenech, J.-P. (2015). Sporting clubs and scandals – Lessons in governance. Sport Management Review, 19(1), 69-80.

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