The International Olympic Committee asked the U.S. Olympic Committee for “generic” but apparently wide-ranging information Saturday about the USOC’s role in and oversight of anti-doping practices over the last 25 years.
Stressing that the call for more information was not an investigation and that the IOC does not, at this point, intend to initiate disciplinary or punitive measures, IOC Director General Francois Carrard said the IOC “wants to understand how the system, if there was one, worked,” meaning USOC standards, practices and procedures.
The IOC did not indicate that its request was focused on, or limited to, a particular case or cases. Its ruling executive board will formally review all material by the next major meeting on the IOC calendar, in July in Prague, Czech Republic.
The IOC’s call for more information highlights a discontent within influential Olympic circles that has simmered for years over doping-related issues involving the USOC, a history that has produced suspicion of a far-reaching cover-up. USOC officials have consistently said there was no systematic cover-up.
“We think it is important to know what happened,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said at a news conference. “There are allegations that have circulated for a long time. These allegations have induced suspicion, and we think that this is an ideal opportunity for the United States Olympic Committee to dispel any suspicion ... by just telling what they have done.”
In response, USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said, “We agree with Dr. Rogge’s assertion that this is an important opportunity to answer any remaining questions and, in so doing, bring closure to this matter. We also recognize and appreciate that the IOC is interested in learning more about facts and less about suspicion and innuendo, and welcome the opportunity to present the facts.”
Meantime, the IOC’s action also underscores the USOC’s disorganization in its management ranks, as well as a fundamental -- and oft-repeated -- failure to understand how to play international politics.
The IOC moved after hearing a presentation Saturday morning to its executive board by Jeff Benz, the USOC’s general counsel. He appeared in the wake of news reports detailing irregularities on tests involving track stars Carl Lewis and Joe DeLoach, tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez, soccer player Alexi Lalas and others.
Management turmoil has consumed the USOC for most of this year -- in the wake of an ethics crisis that erupted in December, it now has an acting president and an interim CEO and is the subject of two reform commissions -- so it is unclear what delegation of senior officials, or longtime USOC hands, might have been sent to Madrid to underscore how seriously the USOC took the matter while creating an impression of resoluteness and solidarity with Benz.
A handful of officials with formal or informal ties to the USOC had in fact been in Madrid earlier in the week for a sports-business convention. But they’d all cleared out by Saturday, including Paul George, a USOC vice president now purportedly acting as the organization’s point man for international relations.
So Benz had to go it alone. And then he was left outside the meeting room for nearly 90 minutes, pacing back and forth, before finally being admitted.
“I don’t think it’s inappropriate for the IOC to ask questions, or for us to answer those questions,” Benz said afterward.
George, reached late Saturday at his Boston home, said he first learned of Benz’s appearance while reading a newspaper on the airplane home. “You’d think I should have been told, since I was there,” George said.
In an April 29 letter to the USOC, Rogge asked for “further information” and the USOC’s “point of view” in the wake of “recent allegation[s] concerning doping issues,” first published in Sports Illustrated and the Orange County Register, that named Lewis, DeLoach and the others and alleged that more than 100 U.S. athletes had tested positive for drugs from 1988 to 2000 -- and 19 went on to win medals.
Those reports relied on documents provided by the USOC’s former director for drug control, Wade Exum. The documents were released upon the dismissal from federal court of a lawsuit Exum had filed against the USOC, and fueled renewed accusations of a USOC cover-up, particularly in regard to Lewis, a nine-time gold medalist. Dick Pound, a Canadian IOC member and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, urged the IOC to launch a far-reaching investigation.
“It’s serious enough that we have to know what happened,” Pound said Saturday in a telephone interview.
In response to Rogge’s letter, Benz produced a lengthy document focused on Lewis and DeLoach, believing those cases represented the IOC’s key interest.
Worldwide track and field’s governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, had issued a statement April 30 saying the USOC acted within the rules in place at the time when investigating elevated findings in tests conducted at the 1988 Olympic trials on Lewis and DeLoach.
As reported April 23 in The Times, each tested positive for trace amounts of the stimulant ephedrine or a related substance. To make a positive doping case in 1988, the USOC then had to find evidence proving “sole intention” to cheat. The USOC found none, and cleared both athletes.
Tennis officials have said Fernandez did nothing wrong. Lalas’ agent said the soccer star also was cleared.
The results of those tests, in which all four athletes were formally cleared or produced explanations pointing to exoneration, raise significant questions about the scope and nature of the other tests -- the more than 100 others -- in the Exum papers. He could not be located Saturday for comment.
The USOC, meantime, has been out of the drug-testing business for nearly three years. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency took over the job after the 2000 Sydney Games.
Even so, Carrard said, “We are concerned about the future of the fight against doping, and we want to make sure that our major players are complying with the rules.”