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Doping: Pound Urges Increased Vigilance

Oct 24, 2012  - Craig Lord

Former Commonwealth champion swimmer Dick Pound, ex-president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has given warning that cycling is far from being alone when it comes to the need to crack down on the use of performance-enhancing substances.

As the UCI, cycling's federation, reels in the fallout of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal Pound urged greater vigilance in all sports.

"I think every sport is at risk," the former International Olympic Committee vice president told CNN. "They use different drugs in different sports: track and field, swimming, weightlifting, football has had it - pick a sport and you could probably determine which drugs are the drugs of choice."

The UCI needed to act decisively to avoid being irreversibly damaged, said Pound: "It could be a watershed moment- you hope that the UCI will stop trying to blame everyone else rather than themselves. We have to get this act together very quickly, because it is entirely likely that this was not the only team in the peloton involved in organizing cheating."

A USADA report on the American cyclist's case conclued that the US Postal Service team and Armstrong had run "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen".

"If they don't get their act together, it could spin out of control," said Pound. "Sponsors are already dropping out for teams, individual sponsors have dropped Armstrong while the Spanish, Italians, Germans will be wondering if some of their people are doing some of this. When you see how pervasive the system of cheating was in one team - this was probably not the only place it happened. You wonder where else it happened."

A Canadian, Pound, a strong critic of the UCI, was sued by the the cycling federation in 2007, after his term as WADA president had come to an end, over criticism he levelled at the authority's former president Hein Verbruggen.

An out of court settlement was reached in 2009, with Pound acknowledging some of his comments could have been perceived as excessive but that he had felt the UCI's actions had been insufficient. And so it turned out, without question.

Pound argues that Operation Puerto - an investigation started by the Spanish police in May 2006 into the doping ring led by Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and involving athletes Ivan Basso, Tyler Hamilton and others - shows just how systematic doping had become in cycling.

"Operation Puerto has been stalled because of Spanish bureaucracy - probably because of the damning involvement of the Spanish doctors involved," Pound told the TV station.

The trouble that the UCI got itself into is the same trouble many other federations get themselves into when their response to doping suspicion is "no-one tests positive - end of story". In many cases down the years, it has not been the end of the story: the GDR in the 1970s, China in the 1990s, Michelle Smith de Bruin, to name the high profile chapters in a book of doping problems in swimming, for example.

In each of the cases above, the response to those who said "there is a problem here" was almost always "there is no problem and where there is no positive test, we should celebrate the achievements of the athlete". 

There has been scant regard for the obvious downside to that approach: cheats have prospered; great athletes have been cheated out of their rightful place; athletes celebrated as champions were, in fact, victims of abuse and later paid a great price in damaged health, disabled children and psychological problems, to name a few of the 'fallout' issues; and federations have been tainted by their apparent defence of the indefensible.

In London at the Olympic Games, day one in the pool delivered a huge anomaly in the sport. Legitimate questions were raised - and, as ever, those who raised the questions were slammed for doing so. Those questions remain - and so far, there have been no satisfactory answers.