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Crack in the Code

A new global anti-doping initiative may be a turning point in fight against performance-enhancing drugs in international sport, but a major rift is likely if U.S., viewed suspiciously by much of world, isn't on board

March 09, 2003|Richard W. Pound; Craig A. Masback | Special to the Times

Meeting last week in Copenhagen, the World Anti-Doping Agency passed the first global anti-doping code. It could ultimately mark a turning point in the campaign to stop the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympic Games and other sporting events.

Unclear, however, is whether the code will have a far-reaching impact in the United States. Though individual athletes in U.S. pro leagues, such as NBA stars selected to play in the 2004 Athens Olympics, fall under the code, the leagues themselves -- the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball -- and thus hundreds of other high-profile athletes, do not.

Moreover, because of disputes involving drug tests of track and field athletes in recent years, some influential Olympic and sports officials in other countries have come to view U.S. efforts in the anti-doping campaign with increasing suspicion.

At the meeting in Copenhagen, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge made plain that position: "The U.S. is one of the most difficult countries for anti-doping in sport. There is a culture in the U.S. where individual freedom is so strong that out-of-competition testing is more difficult. Also, there is the hands-off attitude of the government toward sports. They now have to legislate on sports."

In the accompanying stories, Canadian Richard W. Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency and a member of the IOC, and Craig A. Masback , chief executive of USA Track & Field, debate U.S. policies.

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POINT

Stonewalling has become the new American Way, with ethics and credibility the primary casualties.

By Richard W. Pound

Special to the Times

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For years, USA Track & Field stonewalled the international governing body for track and field, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations.

It deliberately hid positive results of drug tests on American athletes from the IAAF, resolutely refusing to provide details. It said the results were confidential and that, despite the clear rules of the IAAF requiring disclosure of positive tests, it would not, could not, provide the names of the athletes involved. USATF said it had rules of confidentiality.

Indeed, it claimed, the laws of the United States forbade it from providing the required information.

At the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, U.S. shotputter C.J. Hunter was given an athlete's credential, even though he had tested positive for drug use on four occasions. USATF did not itself issue the credential -- that was the job of Sydney Olympic authorities -- but it did not advise the U.S. Olympic Committee of these positive tests. Moreover, USATF nominated Hunter to the U.S. team four days after learning of a first positive test.

It was only when reports of the positive tests and his accreditation as part of the U.S. Olympic delegation appeared in the media that USATF responded.

Under the pressure of public attention and outrage, it announced the appointment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate that, and many other, allegations.

The commission, funded in large measure by the USOC, conducted an 11-month investigation and provided its report to USATF. But, extraordinarily, USATF disavowed most of the conclusions reached by its own commission. Denial was the name of the game. USATF's professed desire for an independent investigation proved to be an illusion.

Only the threat of suspension by the IAAF, plus the possibility of decertification and replacement as the governing body recognized by the USOC, prompted USATF to eventually agree to submit its position for determination by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The issue: Was it correct that only after USATF had made a secret determination of whether a U.S. athlete had been guilty of doping would the name of the athlete be disclosed to the IAAF?

Until that time, USATF refused to disclose to the IAAF even that there was a possible doping offense, in spite of clear rules that required such disclosure.

USATF simply told the IAAF that its rules prevented such disclosure and that U.S. law also prevented disclosure.

A case was set down for hearing by CAS late last year. There the question was framed in two parts. First, was USATF required to disclose the names of athletes with positive tests to the IAAF under rules that govern all national federations? Second, was there any good reason why the names of 13 athletes who had secretly been exonerated from positive doping tests should not be disclosed? (Such tests search for a wide variety of substances that can enhance performance, including -- but not limited to -- steroids.)

The answer to the first question was yes. The rules were quite clear and there was no justifiable reason why USATF should not provide the names of the athletes involved, as called for under IAAF rules. The procedural obstacles raised by USATF were without merit. No U.S. law prevented such disclosure. USATF was exposed as having adopted a position without legal merit.

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