By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Six months after Australia's top criminal intelligence unit alleged widespread doping in Australian sport, investigators have interviewed dozens of athletes, compiled a brick-like report of their findings and failed to release the name of a single offender.
The February 7 release of the Australian Crime Commission report was dramatically staged in Canberra and sent shockwaves through the country with a former chief of the national anti-doping authority dubbing it the "blackest day" in Australian sport.
The same authority announced a probe "unprecedented" in its scale in Australia targeting the country's two most popular football leagues but, barring the stingiest drip-feed of updates, has resolutely declined to shed any light in the gloom.
The snail's pace of the investigation has tested the patience of Australian sports fans, journalists and pundits alike - all of them perhaps more used to the speedy resolution of the disciplinary hearing.
The leagues, too, are keen to get the issue out of the way before the showpiece playoffs that form the climax of the season for winter sports in Australia.
Most importantly, the delays have fuelled speculation and rumor, tainting the innocent along with the guilty, if there are any, at the clubs on which the probe has concentrated.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's (ASADA) latest missive on Friday was to announce the fruits of their work had been passed on to the Australian Football League (AFL), the governing body of the popular indigenous code, Australian Rules.
The AFL has been rocked by allegations of cheating at the Essendon Bombers, one of its most storied clubs, where the use of exotic supplements in 2012 contributed to a "disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment", according to an independent review commissioned by the club.
At the heart of the allegations are peptides, short chains of amino acids which athletes can take in supplement form to aid muscle growth and re-generation.
Essendon's top player and captain Jobe Watson sensationally admitted on a television chat show in June that he believed he had taken a drug banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The club's chairman quit last month, one of a string of officials and coaches to depart amid the scandal, and yet still not one player has been punished.
ASADA's 400-page report submitted to the AFL on Friday referenced more than 13,000 supporting documents, including transcripts from more than 130 interviews with witnesses.
However, it was only an "interim" report, ASADA said in a statement, and it would now need to "analyze" the information it had obtained, leaving Essendon and the AFL in limbo a month before the start of the playoffs.
ASADA has now also re-commenced interviews with players in the National Rugby League, amid concerns over a supplements program administered to players at the Cronulla Sharks in the 2011 season.
The anti-doping body is not expected to complete investigations before the end of the NRL season, leaving the Sharks, who are also in contention for the playoffs, under a cloud.
Both Essendon and the Sharks came under scrutiny after working with sports scientist Stephen Dank, who left the Bombers midway through 2012 and was involved with Cronulla for a brief period in 2011.
Dank told state broadcaster ABC earlier this year that he administered peptides to players at Essendon but denied they were illegal.
Essendon captain Watson, who won the AFL's most valuable player award last year, was booed by opposition fans during the team's heavy loss to the Collingwood Magpies on Sunday.
He has been slammed on social media since admitting that he believed he had taken AOD-9604, a banned anti-obesity drug, after signing a consent form presented by the club.
"I don't have a feeling of guilt and I don't believe I've done anything wrong," Watson said on television after his admission.
"So all I want is the truth to come out."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)