Dr. Robert Voy, the controversial head of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s anti-doping campaign in the 1980s, said Friday he too believes that the USOC is not sincerely interested in stopping athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs.
Speaking in the wake of the abrupt resignation of his successor, Dr. Wade Exum, who quit while alleging that the USOC really doesn’t want to stop doping, Voy said, “I give him a lot of credit for putting up with a situation that I don’t think was ever designed to be successful.
“That was the way I felt . . . when I left and it sounds like nothing has changed.”
Scott Blackmun, the USOC’s senior managing director for sport resources, said Friday that there should be no question of the committee’s resolve.
Just last week, he said, the USOC’s policy-making executive committee reiterated for USOC staff “marching orders” that the anti-doping fight remain “our very highest priority.”
Blackmun emphasized that the executive committee “instructed me to devote whatever resources are necessary” to stamp out doping.
Added USOC spokesman Mike Moran: “How close is Bob Voy to what we do now?” Moran then provided an answer: “He’s not.”
Exum, who served nine years as the USOC’s director of Drug Control Administration, 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’s letter reignited an issue that has simmered for years--the question of the depth of the USOC’s commitment to eradicating doping.
Voy served as the USOC’s chief medical officer in the late 1980s. He was forced out in part because of his candidness with the media about drug use by athletes; in the early 1990s, he wrote a book, “Drugs, Sports and Politics,” that included examples of premature arteriosclerosis and enlarged hearts in athletes believed to be caused by steroid use.
He asserted Friday that he has stayed informed--if not as directly involved as before--and said of the USOC since his departure, “They have really not improved the overall testing situation enough. They haven’t changed a thing.”
The USOC’s critics have long maintained that it is in no position to police itself because there’s too much at stake--in particular, gold medals, national prestige and, perhaps most important, the funding and sponsorship possibilities that medals and prestige can bring.
In part because of that concern, planning is underway for a transition this fall to an independent drug-testing agency, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, to be headed by chairman Frank Shorter, the former Olympic marathoner, and CEO Terry Madden.
The creation of the new agency put Exum’s job in jeopardy. But Voy said: “I’m not impressed with the new so-called independent committee.
“Frank Shorter--I respect Frank Shorter as the chairman. But in his own words he has said over and over that athletes don’t have a choice--they have to use performance-enhancing drugs to compete. That’s a funny statement from someone who’s going to head up the program.”
Shorter responded Friday in an interview that “most athletes in endurance and strength sports” the world over have for years “felt tremendous pressure to go to performance-enhancing drugs because the drugs of choice since the 1980s had not been tested for,” particularly EPO.
The hormone EPO increases the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity, thus allowing athletes to train harder and longer. Most track and field insiders believe the illegal use of EPO is widespread. Tests for EPO are now in development and may be ready for the Sydney Olympics, which begin Sept. 15.
“My astonishment here,” Shorter continued, “is that the goal [of the new agency] is precisely what I have said: to protect the clean people, give them a climate in which they feel a psychological advantage rather than a disadvantage. Why everyone still chooses to fight over political turf that no longer exists is, I think, kind of sad.”
In resigning, Exum, one of the ranking African Americans at the USOC, also alleged that he had become a “racial token.”
Exum also reportedly resigned in part because of his opposition to USOC involvement in an Australian EPO project that included blood testing to determine the differences--if any--between African Americans, Asians and other ethnic groups.
The Orange County Register on Friday quoted critics of that project as saying it was “racial profiling.”
The USOC issued a statement Friday saying that label was “irresponsible and inaccurate.”
The USOC statement did say that the study was designed to “gather samples from a diverse cross-section of athletes.” But it asserted that the intent was benign.
The intent, the statement said, was to make sure that “technical criteria” for a positive test “would not inadvertently include some group of athletes who exhibit these criteria naturally.”
Accordingly, the statement said, it was “critical” that the study examine “population demographics such as gender, age, race and diet,” in large part to make sure that all angles were covered should an EPO test be challenged in court.