PtG Article 28.10.2013

Pound points to lack of incentives to catch drug cheats

The fight against drugs in sport is being severely hampered by a lack of willpower on the part of sport organisations and national governments, veteran IOC anti-doping enforcer Dick Pound told the Play the Game 2013 conference October 28.

Few incentives exist for sport’s governing bodies to catch cheaters, he said, while the level of denial displayed by some stakeholders is “mind boggling”.

Pound, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), pointed out that a WADA working group had recently concluded that the vast majority of drug cheats remain undetected.

The percentage of doped athletes avoiding detection was likely in “double digits,” he said, while positive tests amounted for between one and two percent of total results. So how could it be possible that so many athletes were still beating the system?

One reason, Pound said, was that sports organisations and national sports bodies have little interest in seeing their athletes test positive.

“There is virtually no incentive out there to catch anyone,” he said. “It makes sports leaders look bad, and it makes national leaders look bad. Stakeholders want to demonstrate numerical compliance with test requirements. But there is no incentive to identify dopers.”

Many sportsmen and women remain “strangely silent” on the issue, he said, and those who do speak out are often ostracised by the sporting community.

As examples, he cited cyclists Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, who were famously referred to as “scumbags” by former UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) president Pat McQuaid after speaking out against fallen Tour de France icon Lance Armstrong.

Many sports leaders persist in denying that a problem exists in their sport, Pound added, and as a result are refusing to contribute towards the cost of testing.

Testing programs carried out by national bodies are often ineffective, he said, and positive tests are written off as aberrations.Almost every WADA code change requested by national sports organisations would serve to weaken the code, he added.

Quality testing “more important than quantity”

Anti-doping authorities should recognise that in some cases, tests do not work, Pound said. The number of tests that are carried out is “far less important” than their quality he said, and greater efforts should be made to target tests “at the right people at the right time”.

While recognising that banning a nation’s athletes from competition was a harsh sanction, he added, such a measure was often the only way to force governments into compliance with the WADA code.

Pound’s proposals included giving WADA the power to impose interim suspensions for noncompliance, as well as reducing the time between code revisions and when they take effect. He also called for increased funding of WADA by governments and the IOC, and a greater focus on team sports that, he warned, were currently getting “virtually a free ride”.

New Anti Doping Partnerships

Frédéric Donzé, Director of European Office and IF Relations, WADA, Switzerland, said that new strategies adopted by his association were now starting to demonstrate their effectiveness.For years, he said, pharmaceutical companies had not wished to be associated with the “negative image” of anti-doping. 

Now, however, some of them were agreeing to share the composition of new substances with anti-doping agencies before they entered the market, thus allowing effective tests to be formulated ahead of their availability.

INTERPOL had indicated that many of the people behind match-fixing were also behind doping, he said, which was leading to increased co-operation with the European law enforcement body.

Partnerships with educational institutions were also on the rise, he said, while the use of so-called “biological passports” which demonstrate abnormal biological patterns over a period of time was also increasing.

Watch Richard W. Pound's presentation on video here