Hardball Questions: Richard Poundby Ben Jacobs
April 22, 2005
Richard Pound, a former Olympian and former Vice President of the International Olympic Committee, is currently the chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports.
On Tuesday, he gave the keynote address at SUNY Cortland's Sports Management Awards Ceremony. Before that address, Ben had the opportunity to sit down and chat with him about performance-enhancing drugs in sports.
THT: How bad do you think baseball's problem with performance-enhancing drugs is right now?
Pound: Their big problem is that they're trying to pretend that there is no problem, and that even though there is no problem, they've dealt with it effectively. I think that's why they finally attracted the attention of Congress, which said, "Come in and tell us what you're doing."
It's very clear that they're not doing anything like what they ought to be. I think they face a serious risk that Congress will legislate, because they haven't been able to clean up their own mess.
THT: Do you think the program they have now is any better than what they had before, or is it just kind of dressed up a little?
Pound: I think it's dressed up a little. It looks to me like they said, "How little do we have to do to make these guys go away?" and so instead of holding up the liquor store five times before you're subject to a possible one-year sanction, now it's only four times.
THT: Do you think the Congressional hearing will accomplish anything?
Pound: I think it's a start. You know, they're going to spread it. They've got hearings now scheduled for the NFL, on April 27th, I think. And they've asked for the material on the doping policies and so on of all of the major professional leagues.
My sense is that Congress realizes that there's a legitimate public policy issue here, because it's not just the 450, or whatever the number is, major league baseball players who may or may not be using steroids.
It's pretty clear that they are. But once you know that they're doing it, and that they get away with it, maybe you decide that you have to do it yourself to get there. So it goes down to the next level, then to college ball, then to high school ball, and all of a sudden you've got, instead of 450 people, you've got 450,000, a lot of them youngsters, taking industrial quantities of stuff, the effects of which nobody knows.
And that's one pyramid. Then take a basketball pyramid, and then a football pyramid, and all of the sudden you've got an awful lot of kids out there. So, I think there's a legitimate interest for Congress to act.
THT: Has progress been made in the last 5-10 years, or is it going the other direction?
Pound: I think the biggest change in recent years has been the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency as an independent body, which is the sport movement and government all coming together, putting together the World Anti-Doping Code, having the same list for all sports, all countries, all athletes, same laboratory standards, same due process, same sanctions.
I think that's moved the Olympic world ahead quite a lot. As I recall, the testimony before the Committee in Washington, there was kind of an acknowledgement that the World Anti-Doping Code is the gold standard.
This is the best policy that's out there, so I hope it does spread. That would make a huge step forward. All the more so in educating the public and kids because you see the baseball players, just to pick them, day after day after day after week after week after month after month. You don't see the Olympic or amateur athletes more than two or three big meets a year and every four years for the Olympics.
THT: How much negative impact does baseball's current steroid problem have on high school kids?
I think if you go back, the year after Mark McGwire set the home run record and said that he was using [androstenedione], the sales went up like, I don't know, a huge number -- 20 times -- the next year. And a lot of these were high school kids. That's a very alarming statistic.
THT: How discouraging is it when an athlete like Jose Canseco writes a book where he basically advocates the use of steroids?
I think that's irresponsible. If somebody wants to change the rules and we all agree to change the rules, fine. You'd have to take on the additional health risks and so on. But as long as the rule is we don't use them...
There's a very simple calculus, eh? Either we want our sport to be drug free, or we don't care. If we don't care, fine. But if we do care, we've got to have a policy that will make sure that we achieve the objective.
THT: Do you get the sense that a lot of sports fans don't care so much about steroids?
Pound: I think that's been true in the past. It's an interesting brand differentiation between the professional sports and, say, the Olympic sports. Every time there's a positive test at the Olympics, it's a big deal.
In the old days, for the NBA and the NFL and baseball, nobody cared. Whatever these guys do to get themselves ready for 16 games or 160 games or whatever it is, that's up to them, and if they die at the age of 40 from some of this, well, that's too bad. It's entertainment.
I think there's a sea change out there now. The public is saying, "I don't want my kid to have to do this. I don't want my neighbor's kid to have to do this. Just because there's some people out there willing to break the rules, I don't want them to have to do this to level the playing field."
So, you might find that there are people watching this for a while that are going to say to their kids, "Let's go canoeing on the lakes instead. Don't take up baseball, because in order to do this, you're going to have to get into this drug business."
Picture yourself as a father, taking your kid to the ballpark and say, "Someday, my boy, if you fill yourself with enough of this ####, and you can lie convincingly enough, you can be part of our national sport."
THT: Is it a tricky thing for parents these days to raise their kids as baseball fans knowing that the athletes they'll look up to might not be clean?
Pound: It's not easy, and they're saying, "But why? Why, dad? If they can do it, why can't I?"
THT: How important is it that a parent know something about performance-enhancing drugs themselves, and that they educate their children about them?
Pound: Well, you've got to know that, and you've got to know enough to recognize if your kid's in the hands of a coach that's prepared to do that. Frankly, coaches often have, in fact, probably far more influence on you than your parents do at a certain point in time.
So, there's a huge responsibility there. And there's a responsibility on the doctors. You can't be prescribing this stuff for kids when there's no therapeutic necessity.
THT: Is the war against performance-enhancing drugs a winnable war, or are the dopers always going to be ahead of the testers?
Pound: Whoever initiates has the initial advantage. If you make a move with a basketball, you've got the initial advantage because you've decided what to do and your opponent doesn't know.
With the THG, it was, "Oh, the designer steroids are miles ahead." No, they were one step ahead. As soon as we found it, could identify it, put out a test for it, it was finished. It's a dinosaur drug.
There are other designer steroids; we're finding them. The science is complicated, but it's not rocket science. You've got strength enhancers, you've got growth enhancers, you've got oxygen enhancers, and you've got some stimulants.
The more research you do into this, the more you can anticipate what the substances are, what the blood analysis will look like.
THT: How important do you think it is that baseball catches a superstar?
Pound: I think it's important, and I think you have to ask yourself why it is that they never seem to catch, what's the expression, a franchise player? How is it? Are they testing around it? If you're going to be serious about it, you're going to catch them, there's no question about it.
THT: If baseball gets through this season without any significant players testing positive, will that be an indictment of their program?
Pound: Sit in your living room at home and look out onto the field, and anecdotally, you're going to say, "I'm sorry, but all those players out there are not drug free." How is it they're not getting caught?
Is it because they're not testing 7-24-365? No notice? How much notice do they get? Are they getting half an hour? Enough time to do something? Are they getting an hour? From the time you've been picked for random testing, are you out of my sight between then and the time you provide the sample? What labs are you using?
There are all kinds of things. Are there longitudinal tests? Are you playing with the TE ratio, keeping it just under six? There are a lot of questions that I expect they're likely to be asked.
THT: What's the next step sports need to take to fight performance-enhancing drugs properly?
Pound: I think they just have to decide whether or not they want to be drug free or not. If they want to be drug free, it should be zero tolerance.
Our deal is that we're not going to have a hockey stick with more than this much bend in it, we're not going to have pads that are this, we're not going to use uniforms or equipment that are this, and we're not going to use drugs.
That's our deal. If you break the deal, then you should be taken out. Say, "I'm sorry, if you're going to play that way, you're outside." And maybe you should be outside for two years. Did you do it again? Bugger off. We don't want you at all.
THT: Do you think if any major sports league was really serious about being drug free, they could do so?
Pound: Yes. Very Easily.
THT: How discouraging is it to you, then, that it seems like they don't want to be drug free?
Pound: Well, this is a big elephant, this problem, and you're going to have to do it one bite at a time. We set a good example, I think, in the Olympics. As of the games in Athens, every single one of the Olympic sports and all of the wannabe Olympic sports have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code.
There, if you cheat, you're out for two years, unless if you're attacked by a squad of Nazi frogmen and injected with something, clearly you shouldn't be suspended for two years. If it was an in-competition test and the stuff was still in your system, yeah, you lose the event, but you don't get suspended.
But, unless there's some extenuating circumstance, our deal is that it's a two-year suspension.
THT: Is it your hope that some American sports leagues will eventually move towards that, or is it being unrealistic to expect them to?
Pound: With their present frame of mind, I think it's kind of a pipe dream.
I would hope that they'd say, "You know, you're right. This list has been put together by experts both from the sport world and the government, public health, world. There's nothing on this list that we think our players should take. OK, we'll adopt that. And we do want to clean up our sport, so our sanctions are going to be serious."
To go back to your earlier question -- are you ever going to win? -- I think you win the fight against doping in sport when you convince 99.9 percent, whatever that number is, not to do it. And you also can give them some assurance that you know there'll be .1 percent out there, but you'll catch them.
Programs in and out of competition are such that you'll catch them. So that they don't have to start that mental process of, "Well, do I have to level the playing field myself?" and get into that downward cycle.
Ben Jacobs can be reached via e-mail.