WADA board member calls Landis admission ‘a positive development’
Not long after his 1999 appointment to head the newly created World Anti-Doping Agency, Montreal attorney and former Olympic swimmer Dick Pound became the public and very vocal face of anti-doping efforts in the world of international sports.
Never shy about offering what he said were honest — some might say impolitic — assessments of athletes, doping practices and pending cases, Pound’s tenure as WADA president generated a fair share of headlines and ensuing criticism from those who were often the subject of his remarks.
Since the 1998 Festina scandal that led to the creation of WADA, Pound often found himself at odds with that sport’s governing body, the UCI, and some of the sport’s biggest stars, chief among them Lance Armstrong.
While Pound’s term as WADA president expired at the end of 2007, the 68-year-old is still a member of the WADA board and still quite willing to express his opinions. Following last month’s admission by Floyd Landis that he had doped during the most successful years of his career and his assertion that he he had learned how to beat detection from his former teammate Lance Armstrong, VeloNews contacted Pound for his thoughts.
“I think it is great,” Pound said of Landis’ admission. “Back in 2006, when the story first broke, I did an op-ed in one of the Canadian papers suggesting that if Floyd was really as interested in helping cycling and doping-free sport as he said he was, he could do more good for the sport by ’fessing up, explaining what happened than doing the usual deny, deny, deny. It comes a little late, but I see it as a positive development.”
Pound said that, in one sense, he’s “bored” by the long-running stories involving Landis and Armstrong, adding that evidence of doping was already readily apparent to those who looked carefully.
“Most of the people who have looked at all of the facts have already come to the conclusion that (Armstrong) was already a user,” Pound said. “I don’t know whether that arrow has left the bow already or not. I think a lot of people really admire what he’s doing for cancer and stuff like that … there is, if you will, another song on his CD, whereas guys like Floyd don’t have that.”
Pound is the first to admit to a degree of animosity between himself and the seven-time Tour de France winner, who has always denied doping.
“Yeah, there was hostility, for sure,” Pound said with a laugh. “For one thing, he’s always thought he could huff and puff and blow the house down and I don’t respond very well to that. There were always daggers drawn.”
Pound said the relationship probably hit its nadir when he expressed strong opinions about a 2005 investigative report in the French sports daily L’Equipe in which reporters had matched ID numbers on six urine samples from the 1999 Tour de France to Armstrong. The samples had been retested and showed isoforms indicating the use of EPO. At the time, Pound said that there was “now an onus on Lance Armstrong and the others to explain how it is EPO got into their systems.”
Pound said he doesn’t regret pushing the issue in a public fashion.
“I’ve said all along that he’s never answered the story in L’Equipe — ‘The Armstrong lie,’ I think they called it,” he said. “They had those positive urine samples from 1999 … they matched six with Lance’s doping control forms. He could have argued that either the analysis was wrong or they got the wrong form numbers or there is probably some explanation … but he waived the opportunity to have those reanalyzed. … I think the real objective there was to keep the ball in the air until the eight-year deadline that exists in the WADA Code had expired. The facts are out there and they remain unanswered in my view.”
A federal case
Pound said that while he wasn’t particularly surprised at Landis’ allegations, he doesn’t have a particular theory as to why Landis opened up in May.
“There has been all sorts of speculation that he went through all of that — playing the party line, as everyone does — and when he emerges at the end of that, nobody wants to touch him,” Pound said. “Some might say that he’s just mad and he’s doing it for that reason. It may be that he decided ‘I have the rest of my life to live and every time I look in the mirror I see a guy whose life has been a lie.’”
Landis’ allegations triggered investigations at several levels, including the UCI, anti-doping agencies and U.S. federal authorities. The WADA board of directors have only received limited information at this point, Pound said, adding that he was pleased to hear that American federal authorities are taking Landis’ charges seriously enough to open an investigation.
“Starting with BALCO, the U.S. and the (FDA) have been very professional and responsible in their approach,” Pound said.
While anti-doping agencies, journalists and others have often come up against a wall of silence — often referred to as cycling’s “code of omerta” — Pound suggests that federal investigators may not encounter the same difficulty.
“There is more weight to an investigation like that. Both in the United States — with BALCO — and even outside of the United States, people are aware that if they lie to a federal investigator, then they have a problem,” he said. “That may be the kind of excuse that everyone is waiting for to finally start telling the truth.”
Pound said a few years ago he half-jokingly suggested that cycling and other sports begin their own versions of a “truth and reconciliation” process, in which those who confess to past misdeeds are not penalized.
“The idea was that starting now anyone who comes forward and tells the truth about the past, there would be no sanction,” Pound said. “But also starting from today, if you haven’t come forward and it comes out later that you did do something, you get the book thrown at you … and if you do anything from this day forward, you get the book thrown at you, too. We have to clean it up.”
The subject was again raised in recent weeks, when management of the U.S.-based Garmin-Transitions team announced that its riders would be required to cooperate with investigators and that they would not be subject to team penalties if they disclose information about past practices. Pound said that while the UCI and WADA have not yet considered a blanket amnesty, the Code does provide such an option.
“We’ve already got in the (WADA) Code, the potential for drastically reduced penalties if the person involved provides useful and truthful information,” he said. “So, that incentive is already there. Whether there would be, by some agreement amongst all the parties that were we satisfied that we had the truth, the whole truth and so on as of June 2, 2010, that there would be no sanction going back. It would certainly represent a cultural change as well as a PR change. But it would certainly be worth the discussion.”
Valverde and Operación Puerto
Pound said that the American approach stands in contrast to the years of frustration WADA experienced in connection with Spain’s seemingly endless Operación Puerto case, which began four years ago this month.
“It is very disappointing to see what is happening in Spain,” he noted. “It leaves one with the impression that whatever portions of the state are involved in this are keeping it under wraps and not allowing the case to take the course it should take. I think it’s done a great deal of damage to Spain’s reputation.”
The differences raise concern about one of WADA’s original goals — the global “harmonization” of rules and enforcement — but Pound said that Spain stands in contrast to an increasing number of countries which have taken a serious approach to anti-doping issues.
“I think the penny is dropping, if you will,” he said. “The Italians are doing more, the Austrians are doing more, the Germans are doing more, the French are certainly doing as much as they can. We are making progress, but every time someone waves the Puerto flag one can say ‘here is an example of how not to do it.”
While Spanish courts and prosecutors have been unable or unwilling to share information with anti-doping authorities, Pound takes some comfort in the recent decision by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to impose a worldwide suspension upon Alejandro Valverde, based upon a case pursued by Italian authorities rather than the Spanish cyclist’s own national federation. Both the UCI and WADA joined in the appeal, seeking to overcome the Spanish federation’s “inaction” in the case.
“That’s one of the reasons we have that independent right of appeal, to ensure that all of the evidence gets a fair review,” he said. “Our participation in both of those cases was quite beneficial to the eventual outcome.”
CAS as the court of final appeal
While the WADA Code is relatively new — it was first adopted in late 2003 — the rules are enforced using an already established system of arbitration that begins at the national level and ends with appeals to CAS. Pound said he’s relatively pleased with the way the cases have been handled.
“I think that systemically, the court does work,” he said. “I think the record shows that the court is independent and that it doesn’t favor the doping control side of the equation, as opposed to the athletes, or vice versa.
“There have been decisions that I’ve found to be puzzling, but that’s the nature of jurisprudence,” he added. “Over time the good cases become more authoritative and the ones that are — ummmm — more abnormal, get left aside. That will happen as we get more and more experienced. We’re still new at this. This is only a 6-year-old code. It will take a while to get the wrinkles out. In terms of the process, it’s good. It works well. That is not to say that it can’t be abused, as it was in Landis’ case … both at the Triple-A (American Arbitration Association) and at the CAS level.”
One criticism of the adjudication process, however, is the time it takes for some high-profile cases to make their way through the system. In both Landis’ case and that of former professional Tyler Hamilton, the appeals decisions were handed down only months before the riders’ suspensions were to have expired anyway. Had either rider been found innocent, they would have still suffered a penalty equal to that served by a guilty athlete.
But Pound said such delays do not reflect problems within the system, but rather the tactics of attorneys representing both riders.
“In both the Landis and Hamilton cases, it was the lawyers who made those two cases last as long as they did,” Pound said. “They’re the ones who dragged it out. In principle there is nothing to prevent us from having a process like the one we used during the (Olympic) Games. You want a quick decision; you can get one in 24 hours.”
While there is a need for time to assemble an adequate defense, Pound said that the delays in both Hamilton and Landis were unnecessary and excessive.
“To examine laboratory technicians for three or four days on discovery hoping that they’ve put something that should have been put on Line 2 on Line 7 and then trumpet that as a failure of the technical analysis … yada, yada, yada. That’s something that you wouldn’t get away with in the state courts and you shouldn’t get away with in this process either,” he noted. “That said, to use the American expression here, there is certainly due process. I think it’s been shown that the panel, if anything, is more than willing to bend over backwards to ensure that the athlete has his or her full day in court.”
Pound said that once a few riders begin to open up it’s likely that more will, and that will make building cases against “protected” riders even easier. He said he’s quite comfortable seeing cases made on eyewitness testimony rather than waiting for the occasional positive doping test.
“Absolutely,” Pound said. “You can do a lot more with a confession like that and allegations and information that they can provide than you can ever do with results that come from the odd guy who pees in a bottle. In principle, I am very comfortable with it.”
In criminal trials, he said, “you can hang people even without bloodstained clothes. It’s a matter of having the kind of panels and the people on those panels who are in a position to weigh the evidence and arrive at the level of proof — to the comfortable satisfaction of the panel — that CAS has adopted as the standard of proof.”
Pound added that the more rigorous “comfortable satisfaction” standard is applied to anti-doping authorities when presenting their evidence “but the athlete must only meet a ‘balance of probabilities’ standard (when submitting evidence in their defense). It really is all well calibrated.”
Citing a hypothetical example of someone charged with distribution of 300 syringes of Aranesp, Pound said: “You don’t need the actual syringes to make the case. Eyewitness testimony of a delivery, credit card receipts … all of that is admissible and it’s up to the panel to weigh that evidence.”
“Look at the BALCO case,” he added. “Victor Conte, at one point said, ‘I sat beside her, watched her roll up her shorts and inject herself.’ In these cases, you put the witness through cross-examination and whatever tests you subject him to and then it’s left to the panel to determine how much weight is to be given to that evidence. That works for me.”