MADRID -- According to World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound, the indictment of Barry Bonds for lying about his steroid use should send a message -- to Major League Baseball and its players’ union.
“They still don’t have an effective program, not even on the third try,” he said of the league’s drug-abuse policy, the third version of which was implemented in November 2005 under the threat of congressional action. “Their control program is insipid. It’s protecting some goon who hits the ball so hard it’s still rising when it crosses the fence, but there’s a fraud on the public and on the other players.”
Pound made his remarks during a break in the World Conference on Doping in Sport, where he is presiding over a redraft of the World Anti-Doping Code, which governs drug policy for the Olympic movement and hundreds of other sports organizations around the world.
Baseball and the other major sports leagues in the United States set their own policies and have refused to join WADA. That has always irritated Pound, who views any drug policy that departs from WADA’s rigorous rule book as merely a giveaway to cheating athletes.
Notwithstanding the views of Pound, a Canadian lawyer, on Bonds, the slugger’s indictment raised barely a ripple among the 1,500 delegates at the Madrid conference. That may be because Bonds’ fame is an American, not a worldwide, phenomenon, and also because the WADA program’s focus has always been on Olympic and amateur athletics rather than big-time pro sports.
Delegates were also preoccupied most of the day with the intrigue over the selection of a successor to Pound, who is retiring Dec. 31. Among the American attendees, however, there was unanimity about what the indictment represented -- a gratifying case of cooperation between government law-enforcement agents and anti-doping crusaders in sports.
“BALCO has changed the world’s perspective on how to address this problem,” said Travis T. Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, referring to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, the steroid dispensary that allegedly supplied Bonds, along with dozens of other athletes, with illicit drugs. BALCO was raided by a federal task force in 2003, producing a cascade of doping cases and criminal charges against such one-time sport paragons as sprinter Marion Jones.
“What it says is that for an athlete the cost-benefit analysis of whether to use drugs has changed,” Tygart said. “There’s a new cost -- a federal investigation and jail time.”
His view was echoed by Scott Burns, a WADA board member who is deputy director for state and local affairs at the office of White House drug czar John Walters. “We understand that testing alone is not going to eradicate sports doping,” he said. “There has to be a multifaceted approach, and the U.S. has had the most successful cases of that.”
Still, it was Pound who ran the furthest with the ball handed him by the Bonds indictment. He said that baseball’s anti-doping policy is so porous that “to get caught you have to fail a drug test, and an IQ test.”
For most of Bonds’ 22-season career, baseball had no drug policy at all. A testing and program went into effect in 2003, but suspensions weren’t invoked for violations until 2005. That year, the league and players association agreed to make the rules even tougher after Congress threatened to impose a WADA-style enforcement regime if they didn’t act.
Baseball’s current steroids policy calls for suspensions of 50 games for a player’s first violation of the league’s steroids ban, 100 games for the second, and a lifetime ban -- appealable after two years -- for the third. That’s far more lenient than the WADA regulations, which mandate a two-year suspension for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second. The initial suspension, moreover, is about to be extended to as many as four years.
Baseball’s testing policy is also arguably looser than WADA’s, which requires athletes to keep doping agents informed of their whereabouts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to allow for unannounced random tests at almost any moment. Baseball’s requirements are lighter, and it only tests for amphetamines, another banned substance, during the season.
WADA’s board, which is divided roughly in half between Olympic and government representatives, is scheduled to vote for a new agency president in a closed session this afternoon, with the government members having the sole right to propose candidates.
There remains some question whether a vote will even take place. That’s because the European bloc of government members is discontented with the sole candidate, John Fahey, an Australian politician with no anti-doping record.
Late Friday, the Europeans nominated an alternative, former French sports minister Guy Drut, an Olympic gold medalist in track and field. It’s unclear whether either candidate now can attract enough votes for a mandate to run the agency for the next three-year term.
The donnybrook comes at an exceptionally sensitive moment for WADA, which will be implementing a revised doping code and facing the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, a period that always sparks a surge in doping cases and controversies. The agency will have to manage without Pound, the only leader it has had since he founded it in 2000.