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Federal policeman to head Australia's anti-doping watchdog

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - David Sharpe, a career policeman and former rugby league administrator, has been appointed head of Australia's anti-doping watchdog.

Sharpe will take the reins of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) for five years from mid-September, replacing Ben McDevitt, who stepped down in May at the end of his three-year contract, the federal sports ministry said on Thursday.

Sharpe, assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, has a background in counter-terrorism, security and organised crime.

A former professional rugby league player, he was also general manager of National Rugby League team Canberra Raiders for two years.

His predecessor McDevitt was also a career policeman and oversaw Australia's biggest doping scandal when 34 Australian Rules players were handed two-year bans last year following an investigation into a dubious supplements regime at the Melbourne-based Essendon Football Club.

Among Sharpe's first tasks will be to ensure Australia hosts a clean Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next year.

"The integrity of Australian sport is important to all Australians and ASADA’s deterrence, detection and enforcement role to prevent doping in sport is critical," federal sports minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.

"As we get closer to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, we all want to see athletes do well and achieve their potential but we also want to continue to be confident that all competition is clean and fair.

"Mr Sharpe’s experience in senior leadership roles in law enforcement and sports administration will ensure ASADA continues to play its vital role in protecting the integrity of Australian sport."

Australia is also looking to set up a national anti-doping tribunal independent of sports federations, in the same vein as the global Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The sports ministry has pushed for an independent tribunal in the wake of the Essendon case, which saw the players cleared by the Australian Football League's integrity panel but later banned when the World Anti-Doping Agency referred the case to CAS.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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