Catching the dope cheats: America must wake up

Catching the dope cheats: America must wake up
Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), speaks to reporters at the sidelines of an anti-doping intelligence seminar in Singapore on February 11, 2015.

The country boasts a roll call of athletes who have inspired millions around the world.

Think Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph and the Michaels, Jordan and Phelps.

On the track, in the pool, playing basketball or challenging in gymnastics, the United States light up every Olympic Games and world championships.

In a deal renewed last year to the tune of US$7.65 billion ($10.4b), American TV network NBC secured broadcast rights for the Olympics through to the 2032 Games, boosting the coffers of the International Olympic Committee.

If the country prides itself as sport's standard-bearers, then the slow uptake in the fight against doping colours that argument.

Indeed, many critics believe the US' laissez faire attitude towards doping handcuffs the battle against the cheats.

Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), yesterday acknowledged that many of the rulers of American sports have looked away or been lenient, all because of the intoxicating thrill of winning, and the fanfare and wealth that go with it.

"The issue is down to a lack of leadership," he told The New Paper on the sidelines of an anti-doping intelligence seminar at Furama Waterfront Hotel.

"From the authorities down to the players' unions, not many are vocal enough about the issue.

"Slowly, (the US) is starting to care, but it's the fight of our generation right now... we're in the crucible.

"American sports has to stand up to doping or risk becoming a fraud."

A 43-year-old lawyer, Tygart is known as the man who took down Lance Armstrong in 2012.

Once a hero to millions around the world after his successful fight against testicular cancer and subsequent seven Tour de France wins, the American cyclist fought a long, intense battle against Tygart, and lost.

In 2013, Tygart was named among one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.

USADA chief since 2007, Tygart said sports organisations have to look themselves in the mirror and be realistic about the benefits of doping, and drive home the health consequences of it.

"The health aspect of it is a really tough sell," he said.

"For 18- to 20-year-old athletes, the last thing they're thinking about are the negative health impacts later in life, particularly about drugs that allow them to win, and we just have to be realistic about that.

"We give them candid information, which are not scare tactics, (but) I worry about some of our professional sports, football and the combat sports (MMA), particularly, where the programmes are nowhere near Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) code standards."

The operative measures installed by the USADA have given Tygart hope that more American athletes will do a double-take, and eventually shun doping.

"The chances of getting away with doping and cheating (under) the fully-implemented Wada programme are slim to none," he insisted.

"Whether it's Armstrong, who had the resources to defeat it, (sprinters) Marion Jones or Tim Montgomery, case after case, they were caught and exposed.

"The pressure to win is so huge, athletes will do whatever it takes to win, unless there's some mechanism in place that support their decision not to do drugs.

"That mechanism is them being held accountable.

"So, can we win the war on doping?

"I think so, and we will fight like we absolutely have to."


This article was first published on February 12, 2015.
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