With the Sydney Olympics due to begin in three months, the director of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s anti-doping program has abruptly resigned, charging that the USOC really doesn’t want to stop athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs.
Dr. Wade Exum, 51, said in a June 5 resignation letter made public Wednesday that the USOC was “deliberately encouraging the doping of athletes, without regard to the consequences to their health.” In a phone interview, he declined to provide specifics.
Exum, one of the USOC’s ranking African-Americans, also alleged in the letter that he had become a “racial token.” He added in an interview, “I felt like I’d been treated unfairly because of my race for years.”
Senior USOC management emphatically denied both assertions.
“We categorically deny the allegation there is a racist environment at USOC,” said Scott Blackmun, the USOC’s senior managing director of sport resources, adding that the allegation offended him: “I am really teed [off] right now.”
Blackmun also said: “It’s funny that the guy who was responsible for ensuring we had a vital anti-doping program is making allegations that we didn’t.”
The Sydney Games are due to begin Sept. 15. Exum’s departure could hold potentially significant import in the lead-up to the Games. It also illuminates the intense behind-the-scenes politics that have long been a part of the USOC, in particular its anti-doping campaign.
A predecessor, Dr. Robert Voy, once said of being the USOC’s anti-doping chief: “In this kind of organization, you can’t step on anybody’s feet and expect to survive.”
Voy said in an interview with The Times shortly before he resigned in 1989 that he didn’t believe the USOC was sincere about curbing the use of performance-enhancing drugs among athletes.
Eleven years have gone by. Yet the refrain remains the same from observers and critics of the USOC--who maintain that it could be far more effective in curbing athlete drug use.
Exum has been the USOC’s director of Drug Control Administration since 1991. His personal style and the positions he took, however, often provoked conflict. And it was clear from interviews Wednesday that the newest tack in the anti-doping campaign provided the impetus for a final showdown.
Planning is underway for a transition to an independent drug-testing agency, dubbed the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, to be headed by chairman Frank Shorter, the former Olympic marathoner, and CEO Terry Madden.
In short, Exum’s position had been in jeopardy.
The new agency is in part a response to critics who said the USOC has too much at stake to police its own athletes.
Shorter, saying he was taking pains Wednesday not to be critical of any individual, put it this way: “The whole point is to create a system not only where innocent people are protected but cheaters are caught and there’s a climate of deterrence--rather than what has existed up till now.”
Meantime, the change to the new agency isn’t due to take effect until after the Sydney Games.
Exum’s old office will be in charge of doping controls for athletes at Olympic trials and all other members of the U.S. team until the games begin--including random, unannounced testing.
Blackmun said he asked Exum for a list of names and addresses of members of the crews that collect urine samples from athletes and deliver them to test centers.
Exum refused that request, asserting the material was confidential. Blackmun said it was not confidential.
Blackmun said his office wanted to notify the crew members of the coming change in case they wanted to apply for similar positions with the new agency.
That dispute ran on for almost three weeks, capped by Exum’s resignation, Blackmun said.
Exum said in his resignation letter: “As the only medical doctor employed by this organization, I have had responsibility for privileged medical information. I advise you to continue to protect this information against any improper disclosure.”
He also asserted that he had been denied “all significant policy-making and executive authorities,” despite “preeminent qualifications,” concluding that the USOC’s “discriminatory and openly hostile treatment has been harmful to my health, and I am forced to accept my doctor’s advice that I resign.”
In an e-mail he sent June 5 to various staffers and to the crews, he was even more blunt: “It is with much grief and disgust that I am forced to resign,” he said, adding that the “increasingly hostile, racist, threatening, jeopardy-laden and intolerable conditions imposed by this organization [have] made it unbearable for me to remain.”
Asked Wednesday to detail his allegations of racism, Exum referred all such questions to his attorneys. They did not return phone calls seeking comment.