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5 weeks after crime commission report, plenty of bad news days on doping in Australian sport

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BRISBANE, Australia - Another football official quit Wednesday amid a widespread investigation into doping in Australia's two most popular sports, only four days after key personnel from the same National Rugby League club were relieved of their duties over the team's reported use of performance-enhancing supplements.

Just how many more players and club officials go in the wake of a damning Australian Crime Commission report released five weeks ago could depend on how much the average fan in the sports-mad country is prepared to believe based on often random comments by administrators, players and media commentators.

The latest to go was Cronulla Sharks chairman Damian Irvine, who claimed last weekend that some players on the NRL team had been given injections of a substance used on horses to increase muscle strength and endurance.

Irvine resigned Wednesday, admitting the stress of the doping allegations contributed to his ill-advised remarks.

Last Friday, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan was stood down and four officials, including the team trainer and doctor, were fired following reports that up to 14 players had taken peptide-laced supplements in 2011 in contravention of World Anti-Doping Agency regulations.

There were reports that the players had been offered reduced, six-month bans if they chose to co-operate with anti-doping authorities — or risk getting a two-year ban otherwise — and later that the same players had threatened to sue the club because they were not aware the supplements were illegal.

The Sharks played with a full-strength side to win their first match of the season on an opening weekend clouded by the doping controversy.

The Australian Football League — Australian Rules is the country's most popular spectator sport — has also been under investigation, at this point to a lesser degree.

While the Essendon Bombers were reported to have players under investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority for the same illegal peptide used as the Sharks — Cronulla and Essendon were reportedly advised by the same sports scientist two years ago — there have been no suspensions or resignations in the AFL so far.

On Feb. 7, the country was rocked by the crime commission report showing 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.

Topping off the sobering news was evidence of at least one potential case of match fixing,

"This is the blackest day in Australian sport," former ASADA chief Richard Ings said at the time.

Since then, there hasn't been an arrest or suspension of a player, but there hasn't been a day when doping accusations haven't been in the news. Here are a few from the past several days:

— AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou reaffirmed the AFL's commitment to crack down on injections after a report that some Essendon players received up to 40 needles last season at an anti-aging clinic across the road from their team headquarters, all of them said to be legal. Demetriou said Wednesday the league wants to restrict injections to painkillers only.

— Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported that three players from the NRL's Manly Sea Eagles were being investigated by ASADA over the banned performance-enhancing peptide CJC-1295. Sea Eagles coach and former player Geoff Toovey acknowledged that Manly was one of the NRL clubs being investigated: "We're expecting (ASADA)," Toovey said. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. All the players and the club are looking forward to playing football and getting it out of the way."

— Two former NRL players — Ricky Stuart and Gorden Tallis — pleaded for the rumours and innuendo to stop.

"I just think with the profile we have got, this type of speculation and incidents such as this, it creates so much media it overwhelms the game," said Parramatta coach Stuart, a former Australia test player and national coach.

Tallis, a former Australia captain who won three premierships with the Brisbane Broncos, said rugby league had survived and "thrived" on the rumour mill over the past 100 years ... (but) "right now that rumour mill is running riot."

"Every day I'm getting text messages about this ASADA investigation and the clubs involved, people saying 'this bloke is gone, that bloke is gone and this club is next,'" Tallis wrote in Brisbane's Courier-Mail. "As a game, we just have to wait until something is proven."

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