Australian News

Calls for Victorian duck hunting ban take off after survey finds most hunters fail bird identification test

A study of Victorian duck shooters has found that only one in five were able to correctly answer questions about identifying protected bird species, raising pressure on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to ban duck hunting ahead of the 2021 season.

The Victorian Game Management Authority (GMA), the independent hunting regulator, will soon give its recommendations to the State Government about how the 2021 season should operate.

Last year, the season was shortened from May to June after dry conditions and bushfires reduced bird populations.

The season was then cut even shorter due to the coronavirus pandemic, as residents were told to stay at home.

In total, around 60,400 ducks were killed, roughly a quarter of the number shot in 2019.

Hunters were allowed to kill seven of the eight game duck species, including the Pacific Black Duck, the Mountain Duck, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Pink-eared Duck, Wood Duck and Hardhead.

A ban was placed on killing the Blue-winged Shoveler due to low numbers.

Campaigners say the practice should be outlawed, especially in light of the survey in December that showed 80 per cent of respondents failed a bird identification test.

“It tells both the Government and the Victorian public that duck shooters cannot even do the single basic thing that they claim they are out there to do,” said Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick.

The GMA said that all shooters must score 85 per cent or higher to pass the Waterfowl Identification Test before they are allowed to hunt.

The high failure rate for the December survey would inform future education materials, it said.

In recent years, the GMA has been repeatedly accused of failing to investigate and enforce duck shooting breaches.

In 2018, an internal report found it was “widely perceived” by both shooters and its own staff “to be unable to police [hunting laws] properly or to punish those who break them”.

At the time, the GMA said it took the findings very seriously.

Two hunters standing in wetlands near a lake.
The duck hunting season in Victoria has begun with the regulator being caught in the crossfire, with complaints from hunters and activists.(Supplied: Natalie Kopas)

Internal political push

There are a number of Labor MPs, including senior Cabinet Ministers, who privately want duck shooting for sport banned.

There are also some MPs agitating for a change of Government policy, a position at odds with the party’s leadership.

At Labor’s 2019 state conference, MPs Lizzie Blandthorn and Steve McGhie co-sponsored a successful motion calling for a review of the sport.

“Unfortunately, that review has not been conducted, maybe due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Mr McGhie.

“We are fast approaching another duck hunting season and I think that review should be conducted ASAP.”

Senior Labor sources say one of the biggest obstacles to change is Mr Andrews, who continues to back duck shooting.

The Coalition also backs the status quo, but there are also Liberal MPs against the practice.

Brighton MP James Newbury used his maiden speech in 2018 to call for an end to duck hunting.

He said if the Government allowed the season to go ahead this year it would be the same as “handing out free cartridges”.

“My community thinks duck hunting is barbaric and I’d say modern Victoria thinks the same,” Mr Newbury said.

Victorian Minister rules out ban

The GMA has also been accused of using outdated data to justify its decision to hold a truncated 2020 duck shooting season.

The recommendation for a season uses data from the Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia (EAWS), jointly conducted by the University of NSW and the NSW Government’s Centre for Ecosystem Science.

“The GMA uses the best available information at the time to make recommendations to government,” GMA chief executive Graeme Ford said.

“As many game duck species are highly mobile and can move across state borders, data on game duck abundance and distribution is considered for eastern Australia, not just Victoria.”

But the Animal Justice Party says the advice looked at the national increase in bird population rather than the decrease in Victoria.

“The GMA authority either deliberately misled or lied by omission to the previous agriculture minister in making recommendations about last year’s duck hunting season,” Mr Meddick said.

New Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the Government has no plans to ban duck hunting.

“It’s both mine and the GMA’s expectation that hunters abide by the conditions attached to their license, and to act safely and responsibly at all times when hunting,” she said.

Duck hunting is banned in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.

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Twitter CEO says Trump ban was right, but sets a ‘dangerous precedent’

Dorsey’s statements – the first time the CEO spoke about the decision – arrived on the heels of an emotional week in which right-wing figures disavowed the power of Silicon Valley companies, while employees and the public had begged the company for more explanation of its actions in response to the violent January 6 pro-Trump rally at the Capitol. At the same time, Twitter continued to suspend tens of thousands of problematic accounts.

Twitter’s Trump ban drew criticism from some Republicans who said it quelled the US president’s right to free speech. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned through a spokesman that legislators, not private companies, should decide on potential curbs to free expression.

Dorsey said he believed Twitter had made “the right decision”, adding that the company “faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance, forcing us to focus all of our actions on public safety.”

But the action, he noted, came with perilous consequences in terms of fragmenting the online conversation as people flee to use different services that suit them politically, and giving companies like Twitter enormous unchecked power.

“This moment in time might call for this dynamic, but over the long term it will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet,” he wrote. “A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same.”

Twitter has introduced a series of measures over the last year like labels, warnings and distribution restrictions to reduce the need for decisions about removing content entirely from the service.

Dorsey has said he believes those measures can promote more fruitful, or “healthy,” conversations online and lessen the impact of bad behaviour.

Twitter banned Trump’s account last Friday after first suspending him for 12 hours the day of the Capitol siege. On Friday, Trump again tweeted that he wouldn’t attend the inauguration, as well as saying that his supporters would not be disrespected “in any way, shape, or form.”

Twitter immediately dismantled his account, saying the tweets could incite violence.


Facebook has also banned Trump indefinitely, as has Amazon-owned video platform Twitch. Snapchat banned him permanently, while Google-owned YouTube did so for seven days. Amazon’s web services division cut off the Trump friendly social media site Parler, which was also removed from the Google and Apple app stores.

The Twitter CEO explained bans by social media companies on Trump after last week’s violence were emboldened by each other’s actions, even though they were not coordinated.

Supporters of Trump who has repeatedly made baseless claims challenging Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November election, stormed the US Capitol last week, trying to halt the certification by Congress of Biden’s Electoral College win.

On Wednesday, Trump became the first president in US history to be impeached twice.

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Federal government demands clarity from social media over Donald Trump Twitter ban

The federal government is calling for consistency from social media giants after Donald Trump’s Twitter ban sparked fresh questions over their role in policing free speech online.

The US President has been removed from a slew of social media platforms, most notably Twitter, after being accused on inciting a deadly assault on the US Capitol.

The federal government has urged social media giants to be consistent when enforcing their rules, with Technology Minister Karen Andrews accusing them of having subjective processes.

“There have been many instances of comments that have been taken down from various platforms. Yet in some instances, these platforms are very quick to act when it seems as if the subject content is something that they don’t personally agree with,” she told 3AW Radio on Tuesday.

“That is unfair, it is inconsistent and it lacks the transparency that we are looking for.”

Ms Andrews said although there was “nothing new” in private corporations applying their own terms, she said there was a “deeper question” over the consistency and fairness of the rules.

She confirmed the government was considering stronger powers for the eSafety commissioner to combat dangerous content online but said the conversation on Mr Trump’s ban was “about social media ethics”.

Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen said it was hypocritical for Coalition members to promote free enterprise while calling for a private company to be regulated.

“I’m a bit old-fashioned, I believe in free enterprise. I believe that Twitter is a free enterprise and should be able to ban whoever is inciting hate speech as they wish,” he said on Tuesday.

“I found it extraordinary to see some allegedly free enterprise politicians call for stronger regulation of Twitter and other social media.”

The bans prompted questions over whether social media executives should have the right to censor world leaders online.

The suspension of Mr Trump’s personal Twitter account came despite a New York federal appeals court ruling in 2019 that he was not able to block users.

The ruling stated that given the account was frequently used to conduct official business, blocking users would violate their First Amendment rights.

Liberal MP Dave Sharma said last week he supported the decision to ban Mr Trump from Twitter, arguing it was the “right decision on the facts”.

But he was troubled by the precedent of social media giants curtailing the speech of a world leader.

Twitter’s approach to Iranian leader Ali Khamenei has prompted further accusations of inconsistency.

New posts on the Ayatollah’s English-language account, which regularly shares his statements despite not being officially verified, have been suspended.

But the account remains online despite accusations it has incited violence towards Israel.

Parler, a “free speech social media alternative” favoured by many Trump supporters, has also been decimated after Amazon, Google, and Apple removed it from their servers within 24 hours.

Apple accused Parler of failing to implement adequate safeguards against the spread of violent or hateful material.

But the bans have been criticised for silencing Trump supporters by effectively removing Parler from the internet.

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Manchester United forward Edinson Cavani defended by Uruguay Spanish language institute over Premier League racism ban

The Uruguayan Academy of Letters has denounced a three-game ban given to Manchester United’s Edinson Cavani, calling the sanction for alleged racism an example of English football’s lack of “cultural and linguistic knowledge”.

The 33-year-old Uruguayan used the word “negrito” (Spanish for ‘little black person’) when replying to an Instagram comment after the club’s victory over Southampton on November 29, before taking it down and apologising.

He said it was intended as an expression of affection to a friend.

The FA said the comment was “improper and brought the game into disrepute”, fined Cavani 100,000 pounds ($177,133) and ordered him to complete “face-to-face education” as part of his punishment.

The FA said the social media post breached its guidelines as it “included a reference, whether express or implied, to colour and/or race and/or ethnic origin”.

The academy, an association dedicated to protecting and promoting the Spanish language used in Uruguay, said it “energetically rejected the sanction”.

“The English Football Association has committed a serious injustice with the Uruguayan sportsman … and has shown its ignorance and error in ruling on the use of language, and in particular Spanish, without noting all its complexities and contexts,” the academy said in a statement.

“In the context that it was written, the only value that can be given to negrito, and particularly because of the diminutive use, is affectionately.”

A player in a blue jersey chests a ball during a warm-up.
The academy “energetically rejected” the sanction against the Uruguayan international.(AP: Matilde Campodonico/Pool)

Words referring to skin colour, weight and other physical characteristics are often used among friends and relations in Latin America, especially in the diminutive, the academy said.

In that context they are expressions of tenderness and are often used independently of the subject’s appearance.

It is not the first time that English football has grappled with the use of the term by a Spanish-speaking footballer.

Former Liverpool striker Luis Suárez, a Uruguay teammate of Cavani, was banned for eight matches and fined 40,000 pounds in 2011 for racially abusing Manchester United’s French defender Patrice Evra during confrontation during a match.

United said Cavani chose not to contest the charge out of respect for the FA and the “fight against racism in football”.


In a statement, the club said Cavani was not aware that his words could have been misconstrued, and asked that the fine be invested in an anti-racism initiative.

“My heart is at peace because I know that I always expressed myself with affection according to my culture and way of life,” Cavani wrote on Instagram.

The Uruguayan said he had not intended to offend anyone.

“I want to share with you that I accept the disciplinary sanction knowing that I am foreign to English language customs, but I do not share the point of view,” he wrote in the statement.

“I apologise if I offended someone with an expression of affection towards a friend, nothing further in my intention.”

English anti-racism organisation Kick It Out called for more education for overseas players arriving in the United Kingdom.

“We believe it would be helpful for overseas players coming to play in England, to have consistent education on language or behaviour that may be unacceptable in this country,” it said in a tweet.

“That would help prevent situations, like this with Cavani and others, from reoccurring in the future.”



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Sun Yang has eight-year doping ban referred back to Court of Arbitration for Sport after appeal

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang has had his eight-year ban for doping violations referred back to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after an appeal to a Swiss court, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said in a statement.

Sun was banned for eight years by CAS in February after it accepted an appeal from WADA against a decision by swimming body FINA to clear Sun of wrongdoing for his conduct during a 2018 test.

Sun appealed that decision and WADA said in Wednesday’s statement that it had been informed the Swiss Federal Tribunal had upheld a challenge against the chair of the CAS Panel but had not made any comment on the substance of the case.

“WADA will take steps to present its case robustly again when the matter returns to the CAS Panel, which will be chaired by a different president,” the statement said.

The New York Times reported Sun’s lawyers had successfully argued to the tribunal that the head of the CAS Panel had made public comments that expressed anti-Chinese sentiments.

The Tribunal was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters.

Sun Yang holding his medal while Mack Horton looks away
Australian Mack Horton (left) refused to stand on the podium with Sun Yang (centre) last year.(Reuters: Kim Hong-Ji)

Sun, the reigning world and Olympic champion in the 200 metres freestyle, was banned after he and members of his entourage were found to have smashed vials containing blood samples taken at an out-of-competition test in September 2018.

Sun has questioned the credentials and identity of the testers and has constantly proclaimed his innocence.

The 29-year-old, who won two gold medals at the 2012 London Games and another at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, is a controversial figure in the sport.

He served a three-month doping suspension in 2014 for taking the stimulant trimetazidine, which he said he took to treat a heart condition.

Australian swimmer Mack Horton openly called him a drug cheat at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Horton refused to share the podium with Sun at the 2019 world championships in South Korea, a move that was applauded by other swimmers but condemned by FINA.

Sun is now free to compete until his case is heard again, meaning he could aim to defend his 200m title in the delayed Tokyo Olympic Games.


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Ban on Australian coal backfires as electricity shortages worsen

China’s savage trade war with Australia has brought a string of industries to their knees – but now, it appears the feud has also spectacularly backfired for Beijing.

In recent weeks, the superpower has rolled out harsh restrictions on many Australian sectors, including wine, timber, barley and lobsters.

Aussie coal has also been unofficially banned since October, with steel mills and power companies apparently told to steer clear.

It has also emerged that more than 60 ships carrying thermal and coking coal are stuck off China’s coast, unable to unload almost $700 million worth of Australian goods.

Some have been in limbo for months, with the ABC reporting there were suggestions environmental quality problems were being blamed for the delay.

The brutal tactic has caused the price of Australia’s premium hard coking coal to plummet by 22 per cent since October, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison slamming the informal coal ban as a “breach of WTO rules” and “obviously in breach of our own free trade agreement”.

But it turns out the decision is also having serious consequences for the communist state.


According to The Australian, power shortages are increasing in China with millions of citizens resorting to rationing their heating over winter and avoiding using elevators.

“You cannot pretend that bad relations between China and Australia haven’t contributed to this situation,” a Chinese energy insider told the publication.

Last year, Australia supplied more than half of China’s thermal coal imports for power stations and more than 40 per cent of the nation’s imports of coking coal.

According to Garda World, the world’s largest privately owned security services company which offers business solutions, electricity shortages are expected to affect parts of Hunan, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang provinces until early February 2021.

That could lead to temporary commercial and communications disruptions, including mobile phones, as well as traffic disruptions caused by malfunctioning traffic signals and train delays due to impacted signalling devices or overhead wires.

Supply chains and essential services like ATMs and gas stations could also be disrupted, with officials ordering a number of factories to operate during non-peak hours only.

RELATED: Pay up: China’s Aussie bans backfire


Earlier this month, the price of coking coal in China soared to a four-year high, with analysts from Chinese financial information portal Hexun Futures claiming the restrictions on Australian coal was a contributing factor.

As a result, China has had to buy coal from Canada, which is one of the few remaining viable options – and the lack of competition has almost immediately led to higher prices.

The South China Morning Post also reports that coal prices have “skyrocketed since October to a level not seen since May last year”, with a spokeswoman from China’s National Reform Development Commission stating that: “We have noticed coal prices have risen recently and that has caused widespread concern in society”.

The publication claimed import restrictions had helped to drive up the price of coal, with imports dropping 15 per cent in November off the back of restrictions on coal from Australia and Indonesia, according to Trading Economics analysis.


Speaking with earlier this month, Professor James Laurenceson, the director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at UTS, touched on the current predicament facing China and said the more restrictions that were imposed, the more Beijing risked hurting its own interest.

“For example, iron ore would hurt Australia the most, but if China hit that, it would shoot itself in the foot even more,” he said at the time.

As the war of words between the two nations heats up, attention is now turning to other Australian industries which could be next on China’s trade war hit list.

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Russia’s watered-down ban over doping probe described as a ‘blow to clean sport’

The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) decision to only partially uphold a ban against Russia has been widely criticised.

The World Anti-Doping Agency was seeking a four-year ban from all sport for tampering with data that formed part of the years-long investigation into systemic doping in Russia.

The three-person panel presided over by Australian Mark Williams, SC, reduced the ban to two years in a 186-page finding that remains confidential.

It applies only to the Olympic and Paralympic Games and events equivalent to world championships and while officials are banned, provisos have been put in place exempting those who are IOC officials or government representatives who may be invited by heads of state to attend major sporting events.

Russian athletes not implicated in doping or covering up positive tests will still be allowed to compete at next year’s Olympics, the 2022 Winter Games and FIFA’s 2022 World Cup.

Neither the Russian flag nor the national anthem will be used, but the name Russia can be retained on uniforms if the words “Neutral Athlete” or “Neutral Team” have equal prominence, the court said.

The head of Sport Integrity Australia, David Sharpe, expressed disappointment.

“If this is the appropriate sanction under the current compliance rules then governments, the sport movement, national anti-doping organisations and athletes must all come together after the release of the full decision and immediately work to strengthen these rules,” he said.

WADA president Witold Banka was pleased “to have won” the case but was also left disappointed.

“In the face of continual resistance and denial from Russia, we clearly proved our case, in accordance with due process,” he said.

“We are, however, disappointed that the CAS panel did not endorse each and every one of our recommended consequences for the four-year period we requested.

“We believe they were proportionate and reasonable, but ultimately WADA is not the judge but the prosecutor and we must respect the decision of the panel.”

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The WADA president was happy Russia was found to have violated rules, but disappointed the recommended punishments were not upheld.

The strongest criticism came from the chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Travis Tygart, who told The Ticket the only ones celebrating the decision were the Russians and for the rest “it’s a devastating blow”.

“I think it’s telling the Russians are claiming victory … and this may be the first time what they’re saying is true and accurate,” he said.

“It’s a rebranding, Russia will have their entire delegation there (at major sports events).

“It only applies to the Olympic Games, to world championships, I mean think about how ridiculous this is going to be for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“During the qualifying matches there will be the Russian team under the Russian flag and then when they get to the tournament itself, or the finals, they’ll be re-branded the ‘neutral athletes from Russia’ — just the flag won’t be there.”

Tygart says while the individual members of the CAS panel must be trusted athletes and others still question the decision.

“The perception and the problem the athletes have with this is that the IOC exclusively funds CAS, they have a big hand in appointing who the arbitrators are … and the IOC was a party to the case,” he said.

“Many of us called for an open hearing so that clean athletes could watch and hear the arguments being made by the parties.

“What we have is a summary of the decision by CAS and let’s hope that the parties agree to release the full decision and then we can get some answers at least as to what the IOC was arguing in the court it solely funds and runs and see what the basis of this decision ultimately said.

“But at the end of the day what we know is this is a tremendous blow to clean sport and it’s an unfortunate outcome.

“It’s just another chapter in a really dark 10-year period since these allegations first came to WADA and how they handled this and athletes want to see the system fixed.”

The concluding remarks in the CAS award states:

“This panel has imposed consequences to reflect the nature and seriousness of the non-compliance [to the World Anti-Doping Code] and to ensure that the integrity of sport against the scourge of doping is maintained.

“The consequences which the panel has decided to impose are not as extensive as those sought by WADA.

“This should not, however, be read as any validation of the conduct of RUSADA or the Russian authorities.

“In making its orders, the panel is limited by the powers granted under the applicable law, in particular the WADC and the ISCCS (International Standard for Code Compliance).

“It has considered matters of proportionality and, in particular, the need to effect cultural change and encourage the next generation of Russian athletes to participate in clean international sport.”

For the CAS to release the full hearing all parties to the case must agree, in this instance that includes WADA, RUSADA, the IOC, and 43 Russian athletes, among others.

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Cronulla’s Bronson Xerri is appealing his four-year doping ban but Sandor Earl says Xerri can return to the game even if he loses

Suspended Cronulla Sharks youngster Bronson Xerri faces the NRL Appeals Tribunal before Christmas over his doping ban, but it will be weeks before his fate is decided.

The Cronulla club has continued paying his wage but the Sharks, who still bear the scars of their 2014 doping scandal, will be desperate to move on.

The 19-year-old had the world at his feet during his debut 2019 NRL season.

He was the Shark’s rising star, finished as the league’s 12th-highest try scorer with 13 (from 22 games) including a hat-trick against the Dragons in round 25 and a double the next week.

That dream start came crashing down when he was suspended in May 2020 for allegedly using and possessing anabolic steroids (testosterone, androsterone, etiocholanolone and 5b-androstane-3a,17b-diol).

Xerri is challenging the four-year-ban he is facing.

Melbourne Storm winger Sandor Earl faced the same fate when he was 22 years old while at the Canberra Raiders.

Earl was banned for four years for using and trafficking a performance-enhancing drug in 2013, before returning to the game with the Storm in 2018.

He says the public backlash was the most difficult part.

“That was way harder than the final verdict or the decision to end my career — coming forward and going through that (doping) process — that whole period was a lot harder,” the recently-retired Earl said.

Sandor Earl scores for the Raiders
Sandor Earl scored 17 tries in 29 games for the Raiders before he was hit with a four-year ban for use and trafficking of peptides.(AAP: Renee McKay)

Earl, now 31, empathises with Xerri, but is urging others not to go down the same path.

“There’s no doubt the pressure on young athletes, you really want to succeed and he (Bronson) was probably in a position where he was trying to be the best athlete he can — coming under injury clouds, that sets you back, it’s tough but no athlete should put themselves in that position,” he said.

Earl is one of the few to pull off a comeback.

“Rugby league is all-consuming and a lot of sacrifice, it’s important to have a good balance, close relationships outside of the football bubble, explore your interests, find something you love,” he said.

During Xerri’s recovery from offseason shoulder surgery he was tested after a tip-off and returned positive A and B samples.

“For Bronson it’s a tough period in his life, once he gets through this moment he can rip the band-aid [off] and move on with his life and there’s no doubt he can make a comeback if he wants,” Earl said.

Conversation should be about health — not cheating

Medical experts fear the system is too focused on cheating and the risk of ruining careers — rather than the serious health effects.

Sport and exercise physician Dr Larissa Trease
Sport and Exercise physician Dr Larissa Trease warns that there are significant effects for athletes using performance enhancing drugs.(Supplied: Twitter)

“There’s really significant immediate and long-term effects from using performance- or image-enhancing drugs, which affect all systems of the body,” said Dr Larissa Trease, a medical advisor to Sports Integrity Australia.

“Anabolics and stimulants can result in cardiac effects, diabetes can develop from the use of human growth hormone, liver failure too, EPOs can cause thromboembolic events or strokes.

“In males the testes shrink and cause infertility, substances can cause premature closure of the growth plate so people fail to reach their true height and stature, acne, in women facial hair and the growth of an Adam’s apple or swelling in the neck.” Dr Trease said.

The mental and psychological consequences can be as severe.

“Anabolic steroids can cause personality changes, like aggression, a loss of control, outbursts of violence, most of the performance- and image-enhancing drugs can also affect people’s psychological wellbeing, stimulants can cause anxiety and acute psychotic episodes.”

Many substances are sourced under the counter and have never been tested for their long-term effects.

“Some of them, as an example SARMS actually never make it through the testing process because of the significant side-effects including tumours or cancers caused in rats, so they’ve never actually been licenced for human use.”

Sport Integrity Australia is concerned the rise of the body-beautiful gym culture is normalising performance- and image-enhancing drugs.

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WADA joins Sport Integrity Australia in appealing Shayna Jack’s ban, amid debate over anti-doping rules

As a three-week appeal window drew to a close, two of the most powerful anti-doping bodies in the world lodged appeals against the two-year doping ban handed down to Australian swimmer Shayna Jack.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) confirmed to The Ticket that it had registered its appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, 12 hours after Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) announced its own appeal.

WADA did not release any details, but it is understood to feel that Jack’s two-year suspension is too lenient.

SIA CEO David Sharpe said only that: “Sport Integrity Australia will always act to ensure a level playing field for athletes. In order to protect athletes and sporting competitions, we must have clarity and consistency in the application of the World Anti-Doping Code”.

In the strict-liability world of anti-doping, a positive test means a four-year ban.

The only option is to convince the anti-doping tribunal or the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that ingestion of the substance was accidental and that every possible precaution was taken to guard against such an occurrence, and potentially have the four years reduced.

As Jack did.

Those who are not elite athletes, but casual observers, might describe such “unintentional cheating” —usually by consuming something that is contaminated, such as a supplement, or meat, or water — as proof of innocence of doping.

In the world of elite sport there is no such thing. Whether the rules as they exist are as fair as the “level playing field” they were designed to protect is a debate that has been gaining intensity.

Jack’s case was originally heard by a single arbitrator, the experienced Sydney QC Alan Sullivan.

The appeal will be heard by a panel of three — one arbitrator to be selected by the swimmer, one selected by the appealing party, and a third to act as president of the bench, selected by the CAS itself.

Appeals are heard “de novo”, or “afresh”, meaning the whole process starts again. Those who are experienced in the operation of the court say the appeal will take between six and nine months.

Jack’s plan to resume her career in June next year has disappeared. If the appeal is dismissed, by the time the hearing is over she will have already served two years out of the sport. If it is upheld it is unlikely she will return to elite swimming at all.

A short career cut shorter.

The global fight against doping in sport costs hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Staunch advocates of the system believe any weakness in prosecution must be avoided to guarantee the most severe deterrent possible to prevent athletes from succumbing to intentional cheating.

Others believe innocent athletes are being rubbed out of sport because of anti-doping’s draconian regime, and are being left to carry the burden of being called a “drug cheat” for the rest of their lives.

Dick Pound looks into the camera wearing a black suit jacket and blue checked shirt
Dick Pound rejects suggestions that a lack of intent makes Shayna Jack innocent.(REUTERS: Christinne Muschi)

WADA’s founding president, IOC member Dick Pound, on first hearing the news that Jack’s ban was for two years, commented: “Your athlete was not innocent — it was a doped athlete, it was a doping offence.

“The only argument was what was the length of the sanction? She got that reduced because the CAS panel determined there was no significant fault.

“I don’t know what evidence they heard to overturn the four-year part, as opposed to two years, but that’s what courts are for … the sentence of the guilty person is reduced, but the person is still guilty.

The arbitrator who heard Jack’s case initially wrote that the World Anti-Doping Code “makes it plain that the term ‘intentional’ is meant to identify those athletes who deliberately set out to cheat”. Anti-doping zealots disagree.

“As stated [in another case] ‘the currency of such [denials] is devalued by the fact that it is the common coin of the guilty as well as of the innocent,” Sullivan said.

“While that is true, it would be an over-cynical and wrong approach to the evidence of [Jack] to start with the presumption that what they say is not to be believed if corroborated by other objective evidence.”

Jack’s case is not unusual. There has been a spate of athletes returning positive tests to very small amounts of banned substances that were previously unable to be detected.

Recently, a sample re-test of London 2012 relay swimmer Brenton Rickard came back positive to an amount of a banned substance deemed to be ‘pharmaceutically irrelevant’.

It will cost the Australian relay team its Olympic bronze medal because, as Dick Pound says, if you return a positive you are guilty, the only question is “by how much?”

An American anti-doping executive answers a question in an interview.
USADA’s Travis Tygart is a fierce foe of dopers, but he says the way ‘small-amount’ positives are handled must change.(Reuters: Denis Balibouse)

A recent spate of 26 ‘small-amount’ positives were returned in the USA. The head of its anti-doping body, USADA, is Travis Tygart, the man who relentlessly pursued cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Tygart recently told The Ticket the anti-doping system needs to change.

There is only one person who truly knows if Shayna Jack is a drug cheat, and that is herself.

Yet the system she finds herself in is one where she is guilty, even if she happens to be innocent.

In sporting terms that is known as “protecting the level playing field”.

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WADA, Sport Integrity Australia appeal swimmer Shayna Jack’s two-year ban for taking Ligandrol

Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) and the World Ant-Doping Agency (WADA) have appealed the length of the two-year ban handed to Australian swimmer Shayna Jack.

Jack tested positive to the banned drug Ligandrol before the 2019 world championships and the SIA provisionally suspended the Commonwealth Games gold medallist for four years in March.

Last month, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced that suspension to two years.

SIA chief executive David Sharpe said in a statement the “decision to appeal is based on the need for clarity in the application of key anti-doping legal principles”.

“Sport Integrity Australia will always act to ensure a level playing field for athletes,” Mr Sharpe said.

“In order to protect athletes and sporting competitions, we must have clarity and consistency in the application of the World Anti-Doping Code.”

Hours after SIA’s appeal was announced, WADA revealed it also lodged an appeal with the CAS over what they perceived as a lenient suspension.

When handing down its ruling, the CAS said on the balance of probabilities, “Shayna Jack did not intentionally ingest Ligandrol and considered that she had discharged her onus of proving that the anti-doping rule violation was not intentional”.

The appeals means that Jack’s initial four-year ban could be reinstated.

As it stands, she is free to resume swimming next July, but that will be too late to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Other organisations including Swimming Australia and swimming’s world governing body, FINA, could also still appeal the CAS decision.

The ABC contacted Swimming Australia, but they had no comment on the decision to appeal.

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