(As published Monday, April 5, 2004
  in Drugs in Sport, Daily Dose, and Substance Misuse):

DRUGS IN SPORT IS WORLDWIDE PROBLEM, NOT JUST U.S.

An exclusive feature kindly written for Drugs In Sport by Robert S. Weiner, Director of Public Affairs, White House National Drug Policy Office 1995-2001.


When US Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey first insisted in 1999 at the IOC's Drug Summit that the Olympic anti-doping program be "independent, open, accountable, no-notice, and retroactive," at first there was ire from the Olympic leadership. McCaffrey "had problems in his own country", said IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. "Plainly wrong, " wrote Dick Pound, the new World Anti-Doping Agency head. Then there was support.

McCaffrey built respect and even friendship from both Samaranch and Pound of Canada because, at last, they saw that drug scandals would go on and on unless the world took strong action. An independent and thorough effort against drugs was "a good deal," General McCaffrey, a Gulf War hero with no special interest ties, asserted, because the Olympics could focus on sports. The old cover-ups hiding drug use were against everyone's interest, McCaffrey rightly proclaimed.

We are now, once again, in one of the worst sports drug scandals in history. The new designer steroid THG is claiming some of the world's best athletes - U.S. stars including Regina Jacobs, British sprint champion Dwaine Chambers, and who knows how many others from various countries. Dozens of athletes from all sports are being subpoenaed in front of a grand jury.

Unfortunately, we no longer have the institutional leadership of McCaffrey, nor the expertise of the first U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Director, Frank Shorter, who had pressed the EPO testing now routinely done. They are no longer in office. But Pound is still pounding, and hard, despite limited support.

IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations) President Lamine Diack could only shallowly and narrowly assert in December, "We are where we are today because the United States have proved to be lax." Now, it is easy to dump on the big superpower, but unfortunately for Mr. Diack's argument, the rest of the world combines into infinitely more athletic power, population, and medals than the U.S. will ever singly accrue. It is easy to blame a scapegoat, but doing so only shows the person's own weakness.

In fact, Jacques Rogge, IOC President, is now on a campaign to publicly flog the U.S. for a single sprinter, Jerome Young, just found to have cheated in Sydney in 2000. If the IOC wants to publicly flog America because it now knows retroactively that Jerome Young cheated in winning a 400-meter relay medal in Sydney three years ago, what about 10,000 East Germans whose 1970s and '80s state policy is now documented in the courts as forced steroids, and all the Chinese swimmers who took drugs in the '80s and '90s? What about the regular busts of African distance runners, including the current world steeplechase champion from Morocco; the Bulgarian weightlifters who make a regular diet of steroids, with three just expelled including the Olympic champion; the recent disgraces of the Spanish, Russian, Slovenian, and Norwegian skiers in Salt Lake and since; the just-busted Olympic women's shot put champion from Belarus; and the still unpunished Austrians for the room full of blood doping equipment found at the end of the Salt Lake Olympics, to which the Austrians asserted they were conducting flu prevention… And these citations only scratch the surface of the daily clippings of busted athletes from around the globe. Fair and equal is fair and equal and the world must be brought in as a whole.

As Olympic heptathlon hero Jackie Joyner Kersee recently stated, "People are showing that anti-doping is working." The recent busts for high-tech drugs that athletes and coaches thought they could hide are indeed a true testament to McCaffrey, Shorter, and Pound. But Pound, who is all that's left of the trio in terms of institutional power, and who has bad memories of perhaps the worst of all drug scandals with co-Canadian Ben Johnson's super-human bulging to 100-meter Olympic Gold in Seoul in 1988 in 9.79 seconds, needs help.

The new sports drug scandal is a cyclical flare, which will be repeated again and again unless:

The U.S. has other major structural problems as well: Even though the U.S. has finally paid its WADA dues, Dick Pound was right that the post-McCaffrey White House Drug Czar's office is now "a complete vacuum." It even refused to host a summit on drugs and sports when USA Track and Field begged it to do so after the THG discovery - asserting that the White House Drug Office does not respond to "press" statements. McCaffrey would never have issued such a feeble response; he would have recognized the overarching problem and seized the initiative. The new Drug Czar, John Walters, has only sent lower officials to major sports drug conferences - even the 100+ nation World Code conference last year -- and has not called a single news conference with sports initiatives - despite the fact that over 500,000 American youth abused steroids last year. President Bush's rhetoric in the State of the Union about the dangers of steroids and the need for professional sports to take action is nice voluntarism but won't mean a lot without actionable follow-up by his team in office - and the action needs to be more than banning substances two years after they are already replaced by other equally bad ones on the market.

And on the WADA payment issue, Walters is also regularly almost a year late in paying the U.S. dues to WADA, citing "U.S. funding cycles." I wonder if American Express or Visa allows him such latitude in paying his own bills. Surely he could arrange an executive order allowing timely payment of bills so that world and U.S. youth can be protected from the dangers of drugs. Many entities would cut off services to a customer with that credit record. It is clear he finally made the payment under pressure of political embarrassment, because he finally did what he could have done all along in expediting it before the legislative appropriations process was completed when a bill needs to be paid.

Yet admitting for U.S. failures and inadequacies, solving drugs in sports is a worldwide problem, and all nations must take responsibility. Not only the integrity of competition but the health of all children is at stake.


Robert Weiner was Director of Public Affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy May 1995-August 2001.

At 56, he remains a USATF masters competitor and took 2nd in the 3000-metre steeplechase at the National Championship in Eugene in August 2003. He is president of a public affairs and issue strategies company in Washington, D.C.


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