"The drug war cannot be won, at least not as we are fighting it now."
That distressing realization has been creeping over the directors of many of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) labs, much of the FINA Medical Commission, and the World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA) Board of Directors ever since the (relatively drug-free) Atlanta Olympics.
The Short Course World Championships provided the opportunity for the FINA Medical Committee and the FINA Drug Panel to meet, along with directors of some of the IOC certified labs.
The meeting in Gšteborg provided the admission that the best that can be hoped for is "to keep a lid on a boiling pot. There will be frequent bubble-overs. Most of the boil will go unobserved, but at least it won't erupt," according to one member.
Under the current structure, the best we can hope for is to "play catch-up to the cheaters," explained anti-drug crusader, John Leonard. "But even then, we will stay 4 to 10 years behind."
According to some scientists, all the cheaters have to do is "rearrange one carbon atom and, although the compound will have exactly the same effect, we won't be testing for it." Others, like Dr. Margie Shuer, believe that the more likely scenario is that already-available drugs will be converted to ergogenic uses, as was done by the Russians last summer with bromatan. "The anti-aging drugs that are widely prescribed in Europe are both easily available and performance enhancing," explained Dr. Shuer.
They are also (generally) not yet on the banned list.
Dr. Tim Henrich speculated that even more likely would be the transfer of "drugs from the veterinary side to the human side." "I screamed over 10 years ago about clenbuterol, but no one would listen. And now we have the stuff in (legal) asthma inhalers that causes significant hypertrophy of the non-fatiguable, fast-twitch fibres. That's the whole purpose of training and now you can get it on four or five 'hits' a day."
Not only has clenbuterol trickled down on the illegal side, HMB is there on the legal side, so his fears seem well-founded.
To catch the cheaters, using the rules and structure that are in place today, would take a massive infusion of money. Probably billions of dollars per quadrennium.
Why? Because the current system is short term, sporadic, closed ended, mandatory, punishment based, and secretive.
The system is short term, because only when athletes bubble up to the top 50 in the world is there even a chance of their being tested. And there is little real chance for anyone not in the top 10. The "China problem" included girls who were not ranked in the top 150 in the world suddenly emerging in the top 3, hence avoiding testing.
It is sporadic, because the system is random- by airport. A ranked athlete is selected randomly, then everyone in the near vicinity of that hub airport is tested. If you train in China's remote provinces, you might never be tested. If you live near LAX (the Los Angeles airport), drink a lot of water.
"Closed ended" refers to the banned list. Bromatan-the Russian drug of choice last summer-was not on the banned list, although it was known to be both a stimulant and a masking agent for steroids. When was it added to the banned list? Shortly after the International Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the revocation of medals from the drugged Russian athletes, because the drug was not on the banned list.
Bromatan was only the most recent example of the closed-end characteristics of the banned list. There have been dozens of examples of commonly used, performance-enhancing drugs taking from 4 to 10 years to work their way on to the list of banned substances.
"Mandatory" and "punishment based" are quite obvious, but they are based on the same interdiction and punishment model that has proved to be an abysmal failure in dealing with street drugs in the United States.
In the US, we admit that we only catch an infinitesimal fraction of the illicit street drugs. The systemic response has been the same. Rewards for those involved with drugs is high. The cost of enforcement is bankrupting. Designer drugs are developed to stay one step ahead of the legal system. Veterinary products are crossed over for human use. Drugs developed for one purpose are diverted and perverted to another, while naturally occurring substances are abused unnaturally.
Both systems are secretive. In swimming, we don't know who was tested or what was found.
This was the sad set of realizations that confronted the Board of Directors of the World Swimming Coaches' Association as they sat for their first meeting of their quadrennial clinic in Birmingham, England.
Apparently the two Executive Directors (John Leonard, USA and Michael Ursu, Australia) had done their homework, because the board-quickly and unanimously-approved a radically different world-wide strategy. The WSCA strategy is everything the current plan is not, which is why so many coaches in Birmingham hope that it can succeed. The WSCA plan is: VOLUNTARY: This plan would basically create professional swimming at the highest levels of competition. The highest-level competitions in swimming-the Olympics, the World Championships, World Cups, etc.-would have significant financial rewards, to a significant depth of competitor. In order to be eligible for these competitions and these rewards, an athlete and his or her coach would have to contract themselves to participate in a drug testing program. This program would be LONG TERM and INTENSIVE.
The WSCA will ask the directors of the various IOC labs, as well as a number of other internationally respected drug experts, just how long and how often an athlete would have to be tested in order to be certified as "clean" for international competition. Science will be the guide.
The costs for the testing will be borne by the individual athlete, club, or federation. This is the "ticket to the dance." FINA money, a projected $2.8 million per quadrennium, would become the financial rewards.
The WSCA plan is OPEN ENDED. Although there would be both a banned list and a permitted list, the lists would be "fluid" (pardon the pun), not "static." Whenever the medical commission wanted to add (or delete) a drug from the banned or permitted list, it could, and sanctions would not be limited to drugs on the list.
Whenever a non-permitted substance was found in the blood or urine (or perhaps the hair), an investigation would be triggered. If the substance was found to be performance enhancing, an athlete and coach would be sanctioned. This system only works because it is REWARD BASED. If a swimmer wants to reap the financial rewards (and they will be significant) and athletic rewards of elite swimming, the swimmer will commit to this system.
The WSCA would expect that the major, national federations would develop a similar, in-house, reward-based program, if for no other reason than to protect themselves from the "4 positives for a federation" rule. The trickle-down effect of total pre-testing for high-reward, international competitions will be total pre-testing for high-reward, domestic competitions.
It would also follow that the major, international invitationals would restrict invitations to FINA or Federation "licencees." We will have, in effect, created professional swimming by diverting testing money into prize money at all levels.
The system will be believed because there is FULL DISCLOSURE. Every test will be published-name, nation, and all findings. Everybody will know everything. As John Leonard said, "This will end the 'shell game.' "
The excitement of the coaches at the WSCA Clinic was tempered by reality. This is only a concept, a framework. There are years of details to be worked out, but there was hope. At least there is a strategy that could work.
The only other choices were legalization, or surrender.