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Easter sport, the dope and the drug cheats

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Netball, AFL and Tony Abbott blaming the ALP for the Essendon doping scandal — all in a week's work for IA sport reporter Lachlan Barker.

THE SPORTING WRAP of the Easter weekend starts with netball, but then moves on to include archery, sort of, in that Tony Abbott pulled the longest bow you could possibly imagine when he chose to comment on sport this week. We’ll come back to that later, but first to the court.

The top level netball league is a two conference affair, with a New Zealand and an Australian section.

Currently leading the New Zealand conference is the Northern Mystics from Auckland — from the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic. This somewhat cumbersome name is usually shortened to simply “the Magic” or just “Waikato”.

Across the Tasman, last year’s winners, the West Coast Fever out of Perth lead the conference, from the Queensland Firebirds.

This week’s Easter round saw, first up, the Adelaide Thunderbirds play the Firebirds, with the Queenslanders winning a tense one, 48-46. I must admit, I did enjoy the team nicknames head to head here, with two mythical species – the Firebirds and Thunderbirds – going at it, in what seems like some sort of Homerian avian tussle.

And this nickname themed struggle also applied to the second match, which also had a supernatural overtone, with the Magic playing the Mystics. This was top of the table stuff in the New Zealand conference and, like all matches involving teams at the top, it was suitably tense and ended in a draw — 45-all. This match all came down to the final bell, when Mystics captain Maria Tutaia landing a goal on the buzzer, from distance, to see the Mystics escape with a draw.

The remaining two netball matches saw, in the Australian conference, the Fever over the Melbourne Vixens, 53-47. While in New Zealand, it was the Southern Steel in a record breaking scoreline over the Tactix, 84-58.

The Steel kept things moving along nicely at 20 goals a quarter.

Back across the Tasman once more and one of the shadiest periods of Australian sport had another outing in the news: the Essendon supplements scandal in the Aussie Rules.

In 2011-12, Essendon Aussie rules football club engaged the services of a sports scientist, Stephen Dank, to complement the training regime of the players with dietary supplements. However, in February 2013, Essendon self-reported, to their credit, concerns to the AFL and asked for an investigation into the supplements program. This was accompanied by significant media attention and fall-out for the club, including comment by then two Gillard Government ministers. Investigations then proceeded over the intervening time, and this week verdicts were announced.

All 34 Essendon players involved were found not guilty of taking banned substances. However this was/is hardly the end of the matter, as the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority are less than impressed with this and may launch an appeal into the verdicts.

Furthermore, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are equally unimpressed with the 34 "not guilty" findings and they have indicated that they will likewise now watch the ASADA appeal – if ASADA choose to do this – with interest and possibly launch an appeal of their own, if they are unhappy with how things go.

But leaving the legal intricacies aside, the bizarrest part was when Tony Abbott came out this week and indicated that the then Federal Labor government of Julia Gillard had somehow used this supplements scandal as some sort of political ploy – a smokescreen of sorts – to divert the public’s attention from the Gillard government’s perceived – well, perceived by the Abbott LNP Opposition at any rate – poor performance.

Speaking this week of the tribunal’s announcement, the prime minister reportedly said (via news.com.au):

"Labor had used the scandal as a distraction from their own woes and said he hoped the issue could be wrapped up as soon as possible."

He continued:

"Sure sport has got to be clean, it’s got to be fair there’s no way we want these young players to be misled but I think frankly we have made mountains out of molehills."

He then added:

"... comments from Labor ministers when ASADA first revealed its revelations that Australia was witnessing the “blackest day in Australian sport” were overblown and simply a distraction from their own internal problems."

Since this is the sport column, not politics, so I’ll not go on about it forever, but this was the fullest – and most ridiculous – example of the Abbott government’s historical, current and ongoing policy of blame everything on Labor.

Put it this way, if at the time the Gillard government had made no comment on this Essendon scandal, I have no doubt that the Abbott Opposition would have stridently screamed that the government was ignoring the issue.

So still, today, whether it’s the budget, the environment, health, jobs, asylum seekers, whatever, the Abbott Government will find a way, even now, a year-and-a-half since they took office to show that it’s still all Labor’s fault.

These fatuous comments on the Essendon supplements scandal by the prime minister are just the most nth degree of that.

As for the actual footy, the season proper opened on Easter Thursday with Richmond against Carlton, with the Punt Roaders (Richmond for the uninitiated) winning 105-78. Then Saturday came and Melbourne defeated the Gold Coast, while the Essendon Bombers, refreshed from their not guilty verdicts, performed well against last year’s grand finalists, the Sydney Swans. However, the Sydneysiders were too professional in the end and got home 72-60 in a hard fought encounter.

Australia’s most hated sporting team, Collingwood then knocked over the Brisbane Lions. While the Western Bulldogs defeated the West Coast Eagles in the Saturday night match.

On Sunday, newest kids on the block, the Greater Western Sydney Giants, showed continued upward trajectory by defeating St Kilda, while Adelaide thumped Norths by 77 points. The remaining fixture of the round saw last year’s premiers, Hawthorn double Geelong at the G, 123-61.

So, the winter sports are underway and battle is well and truly joined on court and field.

I will get to the rugby league in time, but want to make the following closing point: Tony Abbott’s rugby league team is Manly-Warringah and they are currently on the bottom of the table, following their most recent defeat at the hands of the Canberra Raiders, 29-16.

And I have no doubt that’s all Labor’s fault as well.

Lachlan Barker blogs at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au. You can follow him on Twitter @cyclonecharlie8.

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