The tough talking new boss of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority has promised to take up the unresolved cases haunting the AFL and NRL with a sense of “urgency”, but has stressed that certainty is more important than speed.
In an unprecedented development, a former Federal Police boss has been appointed chief executive of the national sports anti-doping agency at a time when ASADA has never been more scrutinised or had a bigger task at hand.
With a law-enforcement background spanning decades, Ben McDevitt was announced as Aurora Andruska’s successor on Friday, and in a firm first public statement referred to the “extremely complex matters” before ASADA.
While acknowledging the external impatience over the ongoing AFL and NRL cases that became the subject of unprecedented investigations 15 months ago, McDevitt said: “There are a whole range of good, logical reasons why these processes take time.
“All that I can say is that I will bring a sense of urgency, but I will not sacrifice certainty for speed.
“My very initial briefings here are that we area dealing with extremely complex matters.
“This is about careers hanging in the balance. Let’s get it right.”
McDevitt encouraged ASADA staff to "continue to do your job without fear or favour, malice or ill will, and I guarantee you will have the full support of myself and the minister in government”.
Appointed by the federal Minister for Health and Sport, Peter Dutton, after a search of roughly two months, McDevitt has been a special adviser to the Australian Crime Commission, was CEO of CrimTrac from 2006-11, and was national manager of counter-terrorism for the Australian Federal Police heavily involved in the response to the Bali bombings. He has also led peacekeeping missions in the Solomon Islands and served in the Australian Army.
Minister Dutton said McDevitt’s knowledge of intelligence gathering and experience in law enforcement made him the most outstanding candidate for the post most recently held by a career public servant (Andruska, Centrelink), and a former anti-doping chief on the men’s international tennis circuit (Richard Ings).
“This is a very hard-edged appointment,” Ings, who preceded Andruska in the CEO’s post of the government-funded agency, told Fairfax Media on Friday after the announcement.
“I think something that is a surprise is that the person involved has absolutely no background in sport or what athletes in sport do. This is a new and harder edge for ASADA. I think this is a toughening up of ASADA.”
Asked on Friday to assess recent comments made by Essendon chairman Paul Little, who raised eyebrows when he lamented that the Bombers had “self-reported” to authorities in February last year, McDevitt responded:
“I’m not familiar with that gentleman’s comments or views, and quite frankly every individual is entitled to their own view and their own commentary and, I guess, in time that will be gauged for what it’s worth.”
Admitting he had a “fairly steep learning curve” ahead of him, McDevitt made the broad statement that: “As Australians, we all love sports and we all hate cheats.
“The health of our professional sports people and the integrity of our sports is much more important than winning at all costs."
On his attitude to clubs and their responsibility to enforce anti-doping rules, he added: “Frankly, in my view, ignorance is no excuse.
“And secondly, each professional athlete is personally responsible for what substances enter their body.”
Emphasising the point, McDevitt repeated his line about the responsibility of athletes.
Minister Dutton paid tribute to Andruska for her work in what he described as “turbulent times”. He described her as an "effective" CEO.
While McDevitt takes over as ASADA chief from Saturday, Andruska will act as a consultant - staying on for “a short period of time” according to Dutton – to ensure a smooth handover.