Still Pounding Away

Dick Pound’s involvement with the Olympic movement has spanned 40 years and he has been trying to catch drug cheats in sport for almost as long. A staunch advocate of strict testing, the Canadian was the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and is the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a Swiss-based organisation Pound recently criticised.

At a session in South Korea in February, the 75-year-old slammed its response to the most recent Russian doping scandal. Despite a backlash from committee leaders, Pound continues to condemn the IOC.

“There needs to be an acknowledgement from Russia that there was state-sponsored cheating and they do not seem to be willing or able to do that,” he says. “How the IOC dealt with this sent a terrible signal to the general public, to Russia and all the other athletes.”

In December, the IOC suspended the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), but 168 athletes from the country – who had a clean testing record – were allowed to compete in this year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games under the Olympic Athlete of Russia (OAR) flag. Three years after he investigated the Russian athletics scandal in 2015, Pound believes the reputation of the entire Olympic movement could now be at risk.

“I would have thought that its reputation is under threat. I think the treatment of whistle-blowers will discourage people coming out in the future. WADA is more secure on its policies than the IOC, plus it now has the apparatus to impact investigations on the basis of information provided by whistle-blowers. It was also a disappointment to me how much of a profile the Russian athletes were given in Pyeongchang.”

Fellow IOC member John Coates responded to Pound’s outburst in South Korea with a letter, in which he wrote:

“While you remain our doyen by length of membership, you do not enjoy the respect normally afforded to the holder of this position. This is a pity.”

Pound, remains defiant in his stance: “I thought the IOC mishandled it but I felt very much in the minority in saying that. It seems to me that the main imperative on the part of the IOC was to get Russia back in as quickly as possible and only WADA and the IAAF felt the punishment was not enough.”

Thomas Bach, the IOC president, has previously said on their handling of Russia: “There are clean athletes in Russia, we think these clean Russian athletes can be more about building a bridge into the future of a cleaner sport than erecting a new wall between Russia and the Olympic movement.”

Pound also found time to speak on the recent Bradley Wiggins issue that is at the forefront of British sport currently. A recent parliamentary report into the conduct of Team Sky and Wiggins suggested that the team had “crossed an ethical line” by using performance enhancing drugs under the guise of treating legitimate medical conditions to win the 2012 Tour de France, a claim Wiggins denies.

The conclusion has left fans confused. Wiggins has not been accused of breaking any rules, yet the victory he shared with Team Sky has been seemingly undermined.

Pound acknowledges that a grey area exists, but continues to hold a clear position on doping.

“There can be a grey area, but if a substance is not prohibited, it is permitted,” he says.

“You cannot accuse somebody of violating a spirit. If you examine the conduct as WADA or the Court of Arbitration of Sport would, and it does not amount to an anti-doping violation, then you can wrap yourself up in the morality of life but you cannot turn something into an offence.”

Despite his relentless quest to eradicate doping in sport, Pound realises the size of the challenge. He says: “It is always a huge disappointment when you find out that someone has crossed the line and used drugs to enhance their performance.

“I think the problem of doping goes across the entire spectrum of sport. The methods and the substances used vary from sport to sport but I think each one has a problem. The study within the [2015 doping in athletics] report indicated an astonishingly high prevalence of doping in professional athletics.

“As many as 40% of athletes acknowledged [pervasive doping] and there will be more that did not trust the confidentiality of the report. WADA is catching maybe 20% of athletes that are doping, which means a huge percentage are still not getting caught. That is a discouraging statistic.”

Doping appears so pervasive that there have been arguments made in favour of abolishing anti-doping laws completely, given the issues with the current rules and the spectacle unrestrained athletes could offer fans.

Pound, however, disagrees: “People say that they are doping just to level the playing field but that is not really true. If we keep pushing each other, we might reach a level where there are side-effects beginning to emerge. I think we have to do better at convincing people that it is not only cheating but it is dangerous cheating, and many do it without knowing all the risks.”

It remains to be seen how long Pound’s association with the IOC will continue, as he balances his Olympic responsibilities on the committee and as chairman of the Olympic Broadcasting Services with a career in law.

The Canadian, however, appears as focused and active in tackling the issue of doping as ever before and with a Russian World Cup and the next Olympic cycle approaching quickly, it is hard not to believe Pound will be a prominent figure in the coming months.

 

 

Dick Pound’s involvement with the Olympic

 

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