Interview with Ben Fordham – 2GB Sydney – 20 May 2013



20 May 2013


BEN FORDHAM: Now, three and a half months ago, the Australian media was put on notice to prepare for something big out of Canberra. It was a press conference dealing with what would later be described as the darkest day in Australian sport. That press conference was run by the Justice Minister, Jason Clare, backed up by the Sports Minister, Kate Lundy, and standing there before the nation were the bosses of all of the major sporting codes; Rugby League, AFL, Rugby Union, A-League, and Cricket.

We were told Australian sports fans would be disgusted when they heard the full story of drugs in sport; match-fixing, and links to organised crime. We were told that the bad behaviour was widespread and would likely lead to criminal charges. But three and a half months later, what have we got to show? Positive drug tests, none. Criminal charges; zero. Evidence of match fixing; not a bit. Links to organised crime; nothing.

The Federal Minister who chaired that infamous press conference was Jason Clare and he’s with me live in the studio this afternoon.

Minister, good afternoon.

JASON CLARE: Good afternoon, Ben.

BEN FORDHAM: Do you regret the tone that you adopted at that press conference on 7 February.

JASON CLARE: No, Ben, I don’t. Remember what I said. I said that this involves multiple players and a number of clubs and a number of sports. I made that clear at that press conference and all of that information is correct.

BEN FORDHAM: Let’s play some of what you said at that press conference on 7 February.

[Excerpt from press conference]

JASON CLARE: The findings are shocking and they’ll disgust Australian sports fans. We’re talking about multiple athletes across a number of codes. We’re talking about a number of teams. It’s cheating. But it’s worse than that; it’s cheating with the help of criminals. Don’t underestimate how much we know and if you are involved in this, come forward before you get a knock at the door.

[End of excerpt]

BEN FORDHAM: We will go through aspects of what you said that day in just a moment. I want to lay my cards on the table.

JASON CLARE: Yeah, sure.

BEN FORDHAM: So you know exactly where I’m at. I was watching that press conference on 7 February. This is some of what I said that afternoon.

[Excerpt of Ben Fordham responding to Jason Clare’s press conference]

BEN FORDHAM: If you’ve listened to the rubbish that’s come out of Canberra today, you’d be forgiven for thinking Australian sport is filled with drug cheats, match-fixers, criminal associates, in the kind of tone like it’s an episode of Underbelly. And the ministers had the look of death on their face. It was Chicken Little telling everyone the sky was falling in.

[End of excerpt]

BEN FORDHAM: Chicken Little, how do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?

JASON CLARE: Well, Ben, I made the point that it’s not the majority of players but it’s multiple players. It’s – we’re talking here about – 30 players in the NRL, 20 players who used to be in the NRL, about…

BEN FORDHAM: When say you 30 players in the NRL, 30 players who what?

JASON CLARE: Who are playing NRL right now.

BEN FORDHAM: Yeah. Who have done what?

JASON CLARE: Who the investigation by the Crime Commission has identified as potentially being involved with performance enhancing drugs that are banned under the WADA system.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. So we’re not talking about 30 players necessarily. You’re talking about potentially 30 players.

JASON CLARE: Well, what I said back at – back three and a half months ago was that the Crime Commission had conducted a 12 month investigation. That all kicked off, Ben, because of the work they were doing targeting organised criminals, and through phone taps and other things they were doing, they identified links between organised criminals and professional sports in Australia. So they conducted a 12 month investigation.

BEN FORDHAM: Is there a firm link, is there, between those two you just mentioned?

JASON CLARE: Absolutely. And…

BEN FORDHAM: Sports stars and criminal gangs.

JASON CLARE: What they have done through the work they’ve done targeting organised criminals is identify that organised crime, the criminals that import heroin, cocaine, other illegal drugs, are also involved in importing steroids and performance enhancing drugs. So the same criminals that import illegal drugs are importing these sorts of drugs.

Now, these drugs are legal to import if you have a permit, but if you don’t, they’re illegal. One of the problems we’ve got here is even though they’re illegal to import, they’re not illegal to provide to a player, to a footballer. That’s one of the gaps in the law that we need to fix because it certainly is against the code for the players to use these drugs if they’ve been banned by ASADA and by WADA.

BEN FORDHAM: My chief complaint about your performance on that day was the exaggeration. I mean, it seems – and three and a half months later you can see why people are suspecting that those worries on the day are adding up – it seemed like you were exaggerating the scale of this thing.

JASON CLARE: Well, the Crime Commission conducted coercive hearings and phone taps. They don’t think this is an exaggeration. Let me run through a couple of the figures here, Ben. You’ve got – identified 30 players in the NRL, 20 former players in the NRL, 20 players in the AFL as well as 26 players in the AFL that have identified as using illegal drugs.

BEN FORDHAM: Yeah. But – Minister, we need to be fair here, though, don’t we, because that’s been missing along the line here. You talk about we’ve identified 30 players, there’s no evidence that those 30 players – how many of those 30 players have tested positive?

JASON CLARE: Well, they haven’t tested positive and here’s the challenge…

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. How many of those 30 players have broken the rules or the laws?

JASON CLARE: Hang on a second. Let me answer that question in a bit more detail. A lot of these drugs if you take them, unless you test the next day, you will never test positive to them. What ASADA said is you need more than just drug testing or testing of blood, you need investigations to be able to prove that people have used drugs that they’re not allowed to use in the game.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. How many out of those 30 players have ASADA got firm evidence on?

JASON CLARE: Well, that’s what the investigation right now is all about. ASADA is investigating players in the NRL and in the AFL. The AFL investigation is going quicker than the NRL investigation.

BEN FORDHAM: The figure of 30 that you’ve just thrown out there, it is a little bit cheeky to use that figure, isn’t, it? Because as you say, there’s no firm evidence against those 30. You know, these are 30 people ASADA suspects might have questions to answer. At the moment, none of them have been busted. There’ve been no criminal charges laid against any of them. Three and a half months’ time.

JASON CLARE: Well, that’s the purpose of the investigation. Thirty people identified through the work that the Crime Commission has done through coercive hearings as well as the other work the Crime Commission has done. Now that’s handed over to ASADA to interview the players or collect the necessary information to give to the NRL Tribunal before decisions are made about what will happen to those players.

BEN FORDHAM: Why has this been done back to front? I mean why was the press conference held in the first place. Who’s idea was the press conference?

JASON CLARE: The Crime Commission. The head of the Crime Commission…

BEN FORDHAM: Did ASADA want the press conference?

JASON CLARE: Well both organisations wanted the press conference but principally this is a report prepared by the Crime Commission with the help of ASADA and John Lawler, the Head of the Crime Commission, has been asked this question before. He said, I’d rather cop criticism for releasing the report than be criticised by a coroner for not releasing it. We’re talking – you’ve seen that story on the back page of The Telegraph today, Ben, about six players in the Queensland Rugby League that have been banned for two years for using a drug.

BEN FORDHAM: These are the junior players or something like that?

JASON CLARE: What the report says is: this is not just a problem for the NRL and the AFL. It’s probably a bigger problem for players who want to get into the NRL and the AFL, and six players have been banned for using a drug, which if you see the reports in the paper today, contributed to the death of two people last year.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. Whose idea was it to have the bosses of all of the sporting codes there?

JASON CLARE: The Crime Commission. The Crime Commission organised the press conference…

BEN FORDHAM: They wanted all of the sporting codes there present at the press conference?

JASON CLARE: Just like the press conference we did today where we released the annual Illicit Drug Report update. The Crime Commission releases a number of reports every year. They invite me to participate in those – the release of those reports. That’s what happened that day.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. Was the Prime Minister’s office involved at all in consulting about this press conference and how it might take place and who might be there?

JASON CLARE: My office would have told the Prime Minister’s office that I was doing a press conference and that we were releasing that report.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. You said that the use of banned substances was widespread amongst professional athletes. Will you repeat that claim today?

JASON CLARE: Not only will I do that, Ben, but I’ll ask you to go to the report that was released that day and see page seven. That’s where you’ll find that information. Page seven of the unclassified report that was released that day by the Crime Commission said that it was widespread.

BEN FORDHAM: What’s your definition of widespread? Because when people hear widespread, you know, they think in their head, what is that the majority of players? Is that, you know, it’s common? What’s your definition of widespread?

JASON CLARE: Well, I said on the day, this is not the majority, it’s multiple players. And I’ve given you a bit more detail today about the number of players. The word widespread was used by the Crime Commission in their report on page seven.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. You talked about links between organised crime and players. None of those links have been established, have they?

JASON CLARE: All of those details are in the classified report that the Crime Commission has given to law enforcement authorities. The work the Crime Commission’s done is identify that organised criminals are involved in importing these drugs into the country, but they’re also involved in working with the compound pharmacies that use the raw materials to make these drugs. The work that the Crime Commission has done has also identified organised criminals involved in the anti-ageing clinics that are providing these drugs, working with doctors who are providing scripts, as well as other parts of the supply chain.

BEN FORDHAM: Yeah, but can you see for mums and dads out there who have kids playing football, and NRL stars who are their kids and family members, when they hear a minister of your calibre standing up in Parliament House Canberra talking about links between football players and organised crime, you know, that sends chills up people’s spines. And three and half months on, they haven’t really been established, have they? I mean, we do know when someone buys drugs off someone, well that’s a link to organised crime.

JASON CLARE: Absolutely. And we had 26 examples of that last week. The AFL released their results of random drug testing

BEN FORDHAM: But you can see what thoughts that conjures up in someone’s head when you’re talking about links with organised crime. It makes people feel like they are being accused of being criminals.

JASON CLARE: Well, you can understand mums and dads thinking: what the hell’s going on here. No one wants drugs in sport, especially when you’ve got drugs that are being provided through organised crime.

BEN FORDHAM: You talked about match-fixing. Now what are the allegations of match-fixing?

JASON CLARE: What I said on the day, Ben, and you’ll have it there I’m sure, is that the report identified one potential example of match-fixing and that was referred to the New South Wales Police. This report didn’t focus on match-fixing. It identified one potential example of that. It focussed on performance enhancing drugs.

BEN FORDHAM: Can you see the danger of talking about all of those things in the one mix? When you talked about organised crime and match-fixing and drug-use, you know, let’s face it, you didn’t really talk it down, did you? You didn’t really talk the story down that day in Parliament, did you?

JASON CLARE: Well, I repeated the detail that’s in the report. Multiple players, a number of clubs, a number of codes, I laid it out because this is serious. No one wants drugs in sport. The work the Crime Commission’s done, is frightening stuff.

BEN FORDHAM: You said we believe multiple potential criminal offences have been committed. Do you concede there may be no criminal offences committed?

JASON CLARE: No, I wouldn’t do that, Ben. A lot’s happened over the course of the last three months. You’ve said that nothing’s happened. Let me go through some of things that have happened because it goes to that question.

First thing is that over the last few years we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of performance enhancing drugs seized at the border. In the last few months we’ve seen a drop there, which indicates fewer drugs being imported into the country.

BEN FORDHAM: Yeah, but you’re not linking this to your press conference, are you?

JASON CLARE: No, it’s early days, Ben. But what I’m saying is we’ve seen a big increase over the last few years and now a drop.

BEN FORDHAM: There is a chance that no criminal offences have been committed, isn’t there?

JASON CLARE: Oh no, I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say that…


JASON CLARE: Since the report – just let me answer the question – since the report has been released the Crime Commission has got more information about organised crime and their involvement in importing these drugs into the country. So I certainly wouldn’t say there’s a risk that no one’s going to be arrested. What we do want to do is make sure we arrest the crooks that are involved in importing the drugs…


JASON CLARE: There’s a big difference between them and players….


JASON CLARE: particularly players who may have thought that the supplements they were being provided with were legal.

BEN FORDHAM: Let’s go to that right now. Judge Paul Conlon, 30 years in criminal law, 20 years as one of the State’s leading Crown prosecutors. The past seven years he’s served as a judge in the District Court. He was interviewed by Phil Gould, the Panther’s boss, as part of a story in The Sun Herald. He says: Crime Commission’s do not call press conferences to talk about investigating – or investigation findings prior to charges being laid, for the simple reasons that you don’t want to alert the organised crime gangs or the match-fixers or the dopers about what might be following. You don’t want to tip them off. Isn’t that the case? I mean, all of this was announced – I mean the big fireworks were set off before anything was completed. So haven’t you given everyone the chance – the bad guys to say, hello, we’re here, this is what we’re investigating. If you want to go throwing your documents away or destroying anything, go right ahead.

JASON CLARE: No. It’s a good question. You’d think, well, shouldn’t law enforcement wait? Law enforcement makes the decision about when they release this information, and the Crime Commission made the decision to release this report for three major reasons. One, to put the criminals on notice that they were aware of what was going on. Two, because they were concerned that with so much of this coming into the country, the health risks associated with players using drugs that aren’t fit for human use. And three, to encourage more people to come forward. That’s what’s happened.

BEN FORDHAM: When those comments were made on that day, it cast a cloud over every sportsman in the NRL, in the AFL, in Cricket, in A-League. I mean some of those other sports, I mean, you wonder why they were even there, whether it’s rugby – what was rugby doing there?

JASON CLARE: Well, if you look at a report that’s been published last week under FOI, the redacted version of the classified report, you’ll see that a number of rugby players have been banned for using performance enhancing drugs in the last few years as well.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. In the last few years, so past tense?


BEN FORDHAM: As opposed to anything fresh that’s in this report.

JASON CLARE: That’s right.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay so what, you know, why were they there? And you stood at the front of the room and talked about widespread across all these different sports. I mean, soccer’s standing there now thinking what the hell were we doing there? Cricket’s thinking what were we doing there? Rugby’s thinking what were we doing there? In AFL you’ve got one club. In rugby league you’ve got one club. Let’s use rugby league as the example, first of all every club was put under that dark cloud, then it was narrowed down to six clubs, then they came clean and went oh no, it’s not six clubs, it’s one club. Why was it done on such a scale? And why did it cast a cloud over all of those good people and all of their good reputations, when we know that one club is hardly the majority, or is hardly widespread? You’ve got some clubs where the allegations are there’s systematic doping, and you’ve seen some of that in the press. Then there are other clubs where there are individual players who’ve sourced these drugs themselves. So there is a difference. Some clubs, it’s happening with the majority of the players, and others it’s individuals.

BEN FORDHAM: And some of these drugs or peptides, these are things that were placed on the banned list in 2011, in some of these cases?

JASON CLARE: Well we – in the case of Cronulla we’re talking about a number of different drugs that are alleged to have been used, one of these, which – I’ll give you the name of is AOD-9604. This is a growth hormone that hasn’t been approved for human use, its clinical trials are yet to start. This is an anti-obesity drug, it’s not designed for players to use, and this drug I’m advised was banned at the start of 2011.

Other drugs that are alleged to have been used are drugs that were banned by WADA a number of years ago, I think as far back as 2004.

BEN FORDHAM: Can you see that sports fans feel that whether you are responsible for this, whether others are responsible, that the process wasn’t done in a way that was fair to your average football player? I mean – and even when all – those six clubs were named, I mean there are six clubs that had their logos plastered across the back page and the front page of the paper, as though these clubs were mixed up in something sinister. I mean, you must understand why these – and I had – one of your colleagues said to me today, Jason is naturally an incredibly cautious person, which makes them surprised why this was handled in this way. Can you not see some of the criticism – I mean, part of politics is understanding what you do well and what you don’t do so well. Can you see that – if you had your time again, can you honestly say to sports fans right now that you would have done this exactly the same way?

JASON CLARE: Ben, you’d know from other things I do in this job that I try and make sure I get as much information to the general public as I can. When there’s a disaster at sea and 200 people die, I try and make sure I collect all the information and get it out to the general public, at risk, sometimes, of getting the information wrong and being criticised for it. When we had the example last year of allegedly customs officers being involved in bringing drugs into the country, I was out there giving as much information as I could to the general public.

If I had my druthers, I’d like to be able to get even more information out about this, the problem is, with the way the law for the Crime Commission operates, you can’t put that information out there. Mind you, if you’d put all the information out about the names of players, and the names of clubs, then I’d be criticised as well.

BEN FORDHAM: I can understand why some of these players, like Wade Graham who stupidly turned up at one of these interviews wearing thongs and a t-shirt, and he wandered in there and apparently said to the investigators, I’m not here to paint an effing picture, when he was asked to paint a picture.

You know, he’s turning up there, TV cameras pointed in his face, he’s the first to go in there, he’s told them to get stuffed. What the – and the investigations, the interviews are over. I mean, it looks like, and sounds like, a circus, and you are standing by it 100 per cent saying I – you wouldn’t change anything?

JASON CLARE: Well, I’m not saying I wouldn’t change the way that Wade Graham entered that interview. I’m saying that I would give as much information again as I possibly could to the general community.

BEN FORDHAM: Would you have toned down the press conference a little bit?

JASON CLARE: Go back and have a look at what I said…

BEN FORDHAM: Would you tone it down a little bit?

JASON CLARE: I would have said exactly the same thing. This is a serious issue Ben. The drugs that people have been banned for today are drugs that contributed to the death of somebody at the London marathon last year, as well as another person who’s involved in the mining industry. We’re talking about drugs here that haven’t been approved for human use. It’s pretty serious. I think, you know I’m as big a sports fan as you are, and I suspect anybody who loves sports as much as we do, we want to make sure that we get drugs out of the game.

BEN FORDHAM: If there are no criminal convictions as a result of all of this, you’ll happily come back on the program and apologise?

JASON CLARE: This will take some time. We know that investigations take time. The point…

BEN FORDHAM: I’m not going anywhere. You’ll happily come back on and apologise?

JASON CLARE: Mate, I was on a couple of weeks ago, I’m sure I’ll be on again.


JASON CLARE: What I’d say is – just in wrapping up Ben – the investigations are going to take some time, the change in behaviour has been immediate.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. Thank you very much for your time.

JASON CLARE: Good on ya mate.

BEN FORDHAM: Jason Clare, the Justice Minister.