Sunday, December 10, 2006

Athlete's Unbeatable Foe

Here's an interesting story from the LA Times about the fundamental unfairness of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Yes, there are several anecdotes regarding top athletes, including Floyd Landis. But Dick Pound's overbearing ego is readily apparent too. When WADA is the sole judge, jury, and prosecutor in a doping case, it's absolutely contrary to any sense of fair play, particularly when an accused and convicted athlete has no recourse to our court system..........Ed

Excerpts follow:

Anti-doping authorities serve as prosecutor, judge and jury. The innocent often pay a high price.
By Michael A. Hiltzik, Times Staff Writer
December 10, 2006

Strict policy, or flawed system?

The worldwide sports anti-doping program, created to fight performanceenhancing drug use in international athletics, imposes severe punishments for accidental or technical infractions, relies at times on disputed scientific evidence and resists outside scrutiny, a Times investigation has found.

Elite athletes have been barred from the Olympics, forced to relinquish medals, titles or prize money and confronted with potentially career-ending suspensions after testing positive for a banned substance at such low concentrations it could have no detectable effect on performance, records show.

They have been sanctioned for steroid abuse after taking legal vitamins or nutritional supplements contaminated with trace amounts of the prohibited compounds. In some cases, the tainted supplements had been provided by trusted coaches or trainers.

The findings emerge from a Times examination of more than 250 anti-doping cases involving runners, cyclists, skiers, tennis players and competitors in dozens of other sports from around the world.

...Stringent anti-doping measures have become a fact of life for the thousands of athletes participating in national and international events since the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, at an international sports conference in 1999. WADA's founding was prompted by a rash of doping scandals threatening the credibility of global sports.

What has evolved to protect competitive purity since then is a closed, quasi-judicial system without American-style checks and balances. Anti-doping authorities act as prosecutors, judge and jury, enforcing rules that they have written, punishing violations based on sometimes questionable scientific tests that they develop and certify themselves, while barring virtually all outside appeals or challenges.

...A test sample is typically divided into two vials, labeled "A" and "B." The "A" sample is the first to be tested. If it comes up positive for a banned substance, the athlete may demand a confirmation test of the "B" sample. If that is also positive, the code allows the agency to declare the athlete in violation of doping rules and impose a penalty ranging from a public warning to a lifetime ban. Generally, the athlete also is disqualified from the event at which the violation allegedly occurred.

An accused athlete's only recourse in the face of a doping charge is arbitration, under rules of evidence dictated by WADA and designed to give the authorities the benefit of all doubt.

In many countries, including the United States, athletes have no right to appeal an adverse arbitration ruling to the courts. In the vast majority of cases, including every case heard in the U.S., the arbitrators have upheld the violation.

Tests for banned substances may be performed only at one of the 34 labs around the world accredited by WADA. Athletes are not permitted to have their samples tested at any lab outside the agency's system. The rules also prohibit WADA labs from doing any tests in defense of an accused athlete.

WADA Chairman Richard W. Pound, 64, a Montreal lawyer, argues that the program must be so stringent and uncompromising to be effective against doping, which he calls "the biggest threat to sports."

"The less discretion there is in the finding of a doping offense, the better it is," he told The Times in an interview.

Pound, a former competitive swimmer who finished just out of medal contention at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, dismissed the notion that a significant number of doping cases are accidental or inadvertent; WADA policy states that every athlete is responsible for everything he or she ingests or applies to the body. In the case of adulterated supplements, he said, "If you didn't know what was in there, it's your own damn fault." In the rare cases that an athlete can be proved truly faultless, he added, the system is flexible enough to temper its penalties.

...Yet the international anti-doping program's own statistics cast some doubt on the concerns expressed by Pound and other officials about a sports world awash in drugs. Of USADA's thousands of tests per year, fewer than 0.5% have produced sanctions. Many of those were for prescription medications or substances with little or no performance-enhancing effect.

In 2005, for example, USADA conducted 8,175 tests and imposed sanctions on 20 athletes. Its testing program consumed $5.6 million that year, or 47% of a $12-million budget funded primarily by Congress.

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