SYDNEY (Reuters) - More than a dozen players accused of using banned supplements at the Cronulla Sharks rugby league club in 2011 have accepted one-year bans for their role in the scandal, Australian media reported on Friday.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) said it would not comment on the case because it was still ongoing but several players confirmed they had accepted the plea-deals.
The National Rugby League (NRL) also released a brief statement confirming it was "aware that all current NRL players involved in the ASADA investigation have responded to the show cause notices issued by the Authority."
The players, who include Australia vice captain Paul Gallen, had the usual two-year ban for a first doping offence halved for their cooperation with the investigation.
The proximity of the end of the NRL regular season and the backdating of the bans to November 2013 mean most of the players will miss only three games.
The players were found to have used substances CJC-1295 and GHRP-6, peptide hormones which promote growth and are banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. The suspensions will start immediately ASADA have given the players assurances WADA will not appeal the leniency of the punishments.
WADA have come under fire this year for not appealing a one-year ban handed to American former world champion sprinter Tyson Gay after he tested positive for an anabolic steroid.
Gay's ban, halved because of his "substantial cooperation" with doping authorities, was back-dated and he was competing within a few weeks of the announcement of the punishment.
According to local media reports, three former Sharks players turned down the plea-deal. One has since retired while two others, Paul Aiton and Ben Pomeroy, are now playing in England's Super League.
They are now likely to face an NRL doping panel hearing and could be banned for the full two years, the minimum suspension under the WADA code for a first-time offence.
"The NRL's process will not begin until such time as we receive formal notification from ASADA based on player responses to the show cause notices," the NRL said in its statement.
Five of the players, including Gallen, are still at the Sharks, who were already rooted to the bottom of the NRL standings.
The ASADA probe was triggered by a dramatic news conferenceby the country's then sports minister in February 2013 on theback of a report that alleged, among other things, thewidespread use of banned substances in Australian sport. ASADA issued 34 current and former players at Australianrules club Essendon with "show cause" notices in June and laterextended the usual 10-day response period. Those cases have been put on hold because of a legalchallenge by the Australian Football League (AFL) club in the Federal Court, which concluded last week with a decision pending.
ASADA issued a statement on Friday in response to news reports they had offered Essendon players plea-deal suspensions of six months.
"At no time has ASADA put forward a sanction proposal to Essendon players, or their legal representatives, linked to the timing of the Federal Court decision," it read.
"ASADA can also confirm that it has not 'tabled' a sanction proposal with the AFL chief executive regarding Essendon football players."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Julian Linden)