WADA will not appeal NRL doping bans

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SYDNEY (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency will not appeal sanctions imposed on Cronulla players for breaches of the National Rugby League's anti-doping rules, but has raised concerns about the handling of the matter.

WADA released a statement Wednesday saying it had reviewed the cases and would not challenge the leniency of sentences imposed on Cronulla captain Paul Gallen and 11 current or former Sharks teammates, despite raising concerns about being "not entirely satisfied with the outcome of this case."

The players last month accepted backdated 12-month bans — effectively ruling them out of the game for three months, and mostly during the NRL off-season — after claiming they "unwittingly" used performance-enhancing substances under the club's supplements program in 2011.

WADA said the backdating of the sanctions, which reduced the practical period of the suspensions, were "not attributable to any action or lack of action on the part of the players."

It said the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency had done nothing to advance the case "for many months" after the completion of its investigation in November, 2013 and there was a further delay until a government-appointed retired judge reviewed the ASADA files.

"There is no explanation for the continued inaction from ASADA following the receipt of the (judge's) report in April, 2014 until steps were formally taken by ASADA in August, 2014," the statement said. "It is this last aspect of the sanctioning process that required close review. Full scrutiny of the file revealed that the number of delays were directly the result of the lack of activity or decision by either ASADA or the Australian government."

The seemingly light suspensions were widely criticized by athletes in Olympic sports but after reviewing all the circumstances WADA, which had the option of taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, said "an appeal would not advance the fight against doping in any meaningful way."

The banned substances were also given to players at Australian Football League club Essendon, at the suggestion of a sports scientist hired by both clubs. Both Essendon and Cronulla players have denied they knew the supplements were in violation of WADA's rules, but the AFL and NRL have already suspended some officials and coaches from both teams.

The NRL subsequently announced measures to register and regulate any staff or club officials who are regularly involved with players to avoid a repeat of the supplements saga.

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