Fighting words ... the release of Thursday's damning report into Australian sport in Canberra. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The federal government, the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the chief executives of five major sports were as one. Sport was at major risk from doping, illicit drugs, organised crime and match-fixing. They would stand together to eradicate these dire threats. More fighting words followed when the administrators returned to their constituencies. Integrity units would become Panzer divisions. Dopers, cheats and criminals beware!
Yet, behind the scenes, it did not take long for the facade to crumble. The same sports that had publicly backed the report were soon whispering their misgivings. Questioning the methods and motives of the ACC and ASADA. Pillorying a government they claimed was gleefully exploiting a ''tough on crime issue'' in an election year. Bemoaning the lack of evidence, and wailing that clean athletes had been ''tarred with the same brush''.
The concerns were understandable, if - from those who understood the restrictions created by the ACC investigation - cynical. Sport has a peptide-strong self-protective reflex. As an infamous Nike ad once proclaimed: ''Image Is Everything.'' Particularly in a market where the rapid growth of the dominant codes has turned the fight for corporate dollars into a bloody cage match.
Coincidentally or not, the media focus soon flip-flopped from outrage about the ACC's conclusions to cynicism about its contents and motives. Conveniently forgotten was the fact the ACC's major concern was with organised crime. That the link with performance enhancement was only one element of the report. Ignorantly, or wilfully, the rules and procedures by which the ACC's investigations are bound were also overlooked or underplayed.
Consequently, the pleas of those bleating for the ACC to ''name names'' were faithfully reported without cogent explanation of why this could, and should, not happen. It was claimed the ACC should have given the sports with accused dopers greater warning. Which, given sports clubs leak like rusty roofs in a monsoon, would have been the best way to scupper any investigation.
ASADA was blamed for its supposed failure to expose problems. It was claimed the $500,000 paid by the football codes for the ASADA drug-testing regime should have exposed the cheats earlier. In truth, ASADA is seriously underfunded, and the amounts paid by the leagues barely covers the cost of limited testing, let alone the resources that would be required to infiltrate an organised doping ring at a time when investigation, rather than testing, is considered the best way to catch the cheats. Something anyone who followed Lance Armstrong's trail well knows.
Politicians were also a soft target, given the grand rhetorical heights reached by the Justice Minister, Jason Clare, and Sports Minister, Kate Lundy, at the report's release. Yes, they will deserve ridicule if no cheats are found and brought to account. But only then.
The government and the ACC's reaction to the whispering campaigns of the sports, and the cynicism of the media, has been swift. Clare said on Sunday the leagues had now been authorised to inform clubs if they are subject to investigation. The AFL soon confirmed what everyone suspected - Essendon is the club under investigation for alleged systematic doping. One player from another club is in the ACC's sights.
Even then, in AFL circles some complained such findings did not justify the hyperbole that accompanied the report's release. ''Only one club? Only one player at another?'' Forgotten is that this is all that has so far been detected, not the sum of the problem. Or that it was only a week ago the AFL could - and often did - boast that only one player had ever been found to use performance-enhancing drugs.
At the same time, the AFL's statement that it has not been linked to match-fixing turns the heat back on the NRL. As if the temperature is not already hot enough in a game where, allegedly, at least six clubs have fielded suspected dopers. The hope remains the ACC and ASADA have put two and two together and come up with GHRP-6. That the links are with the type of crime you would find in Oliver Twist, not The Godfather.
But, until we know the truth, we should be wary of those with guns aimed at the messenger and itchy trigger fingers. Doping is relatively new in sport. The art of evasion and cover-up is established practice.