PHOENIX, Arizona, May 17. NOT only has a controversial column written by Steven Selthoffer, one of Swimming World Magazine's European correspondents, struck a nerve within the World Anti-Doping Agency, as evidenced by an official response and one from Janet Evans, our readers have entered the conversation.
We also had several responses regarding Selthoffer's piece exploring Germany's ongoing fight against the perception of doping.
Here are some of the responses that have come into our offices over the past two days:
I was disappointed that Ms. Evans hewed to the WADA line. She seems to have fallen into the organization line that since there are written rules that cover something, there simply could not be a violation. That requires a suspension of disbelief in observed events or a willing blindness. L'Equipe prints leaked test results. Rules say the lab cannot know who a test relates to and WADA reps cannot comment. So, for Janet, no problem with WADA (or LNDD). But, there are leaks. Rules say WADA cannot comment on testing and contested results. Two words: Dick Pound. If Ms. Evans is an example of the athlete reps who are involved in WADA, and she really believes what she has written, then there is little hope that athletes will be treated with fairness or that problems with the system will be corrected. The grass roots needs to communicate their observations and concerns to USA Swimming. I tried yesterday and used their contact link to drugs. It bounced back as undeliverable.
I just want to thank you for your article questioning this connection. Being a swim coach and an active cyclist, I have watched the developments about the drug issue from both sports. Cycling certainly seems to have gotten the most press about the issue, but swimming was not immune – i.e. Ian Thorpe's situation recently.
My concern has always been about the connection between the French LNDD lab and L'Equipe. It has always been my understanding that the WADA code states that the whole drug testing process, including results, to be completely confidential until it is completed – appeals and all. But that rarely seems to be the case – in cycling in particular, but in other sports as well now.
The issue of confidentiality is important so that athletes are not seen as guilty and then must prove their innocence. As Floyd Landis has stated, even if he wins his hearing and is cleared of the charges, the damage to his reputation is already done. What is most revealing is that at the time that Landis' test results were being leaked to the press – prior to any official communications, documentations and again the WADA code – the same charges were leaked about a U.S. track sprinter. The big difference between the two cases is that in the Track case, the incident had been handled in the proper manner – confidentially.
The test for the sprinter had come back positive from a meet a year or more prior. The case had remained confidential until it was almost completed (I don't recall if the case had been heard by the USADA or was about to be at the time of the leak). Thus, the athlete was not fighting both a doping accusation as well as a public relations nightmare. It is my understanding that the confidentiality is there to protect the process and the athlete from misinformation from tainting either party.
So the question remains, how does L'Equipe learn about the results from the testing that it does so quickly? The only conclusion that can be drawn is that someone either in the lab or in the governing body of the sport is leaking the information. Since the leaks now involve more than just one sport (cycling), one might be able to assume that the lab has a connection to the paper. One could then ask the next big question that if the lab has someone that is willing to break the confidentiality rules of the WADA code, what other rules/actions are they willing to bend/break or take in the process?
It seems if they are willing to corrupt the system in a "small" way in one instance, how slippery is that slope that would lead them to corrupt the system in other more direct or damaging ways? Either way, your article questioning this issue is the first I have seen, even from the cycling press. I applaud you for being willing to question a connection between the lab and the media – L'Equipe in particular – that seems just too close and that no one – including WADA, the UCI (cycling's governing body) or most recently FINA – wants to investigate or stop.
I hope that others in the media pick up this story and begin to ask the questions your editorial did. I know it must be hard to question the methods and motivations of a colleague (L'Equipe), but at some point someone needs to step up and question those actions. Thanks for the article about an issue I have wondered about for a while.
As a former swimmer who remains avidly interested in the sport and as a sports fan in general, I was perturbed by the World Anti-Doping Association's (WADA) response to the column posted a few days ago on this site.
I am a harsh critic of sensationalist journalism and an even bigger critic of unfounded accusations; and while I found trace elements of both in the column in question, I perceived no malicious intent, but rather journalistic integrity in asking tough questions that have yet to be answered.
WADA's response was simply unacceptable in dodging important questions that seek the source of leaks in their organization as well as rampant anti-American sentiment. WADA chief Dick Pound is renowned for his anti-American stance, having repeatedly made generalized accusatory statements about American sports without evidence. That is the definition of sensationalism. Furthermore, he accuses independent investigator Emile Vrijman as guilty of unprofessional conduct while it is he himself who is guilty of making inflammatory remarks about American athletes and about Lance Armstrong before an independent lab could verify actual empirical results. I find that to be the height of hypocrisy, as well as unprofessional conduct in violation of both professional and personal ethics.
Even more disturbing was Janet Evans' response. While I have naught but the utmost respect for Evans as a swimmer and a person, it appears that her response is rife with sheer naivete. To claim, as Evans does, that WADA is absolutely pure because of a code of conduct is childish. That is akin to saying that all who take an oath in a courtroom never lie, that doctors never break the Hippocratic oath, and that students never cheat on tests. Furthermore, Evans seems convinced that an agency is capable of policing itself without oversight. I am reminded of the diamond industry before recent laws were enacted; they were allowed to police themselves and in doing so quickly became one of the most corrupt industries in the world. Historically, self-policing has been unacceptable to any kind of official organization – oversight is simply necessary. That is why the U.S. government has a system of checks and balances, that is why most government agencies in the U.S. are subject to congressional oversight, and that is why international agencies such as the World Bank are subject to independent review.
Typically, independent review has proven to be a more reliable indicator than an agency's own reports. Why? Because the reviewer has no vested interest in the outcome, one way or another. The entity in question usually does – which is why one cannot trust their reports when they contradict those of an independent review, which generally have no interest in determining the outcome negatively or positively.
Are there exceptions? Absolutely. There are no absolutes – remember, we once thought Evans' record in the 400 freestyle would never be broken. It is entirely possible that Pound is correct in his allegations, though his conduct in both the Landis and Armstrong cases remains unprofessional and unacceptable. It is possible, though relatively unlikely, that Emile Vrijman was in fact unprofessional and had motive to bring down WADA. However, what remains clear is that there is an established pattern of behavior for WADA that contradicts expected conduct and appears to be indicative of compromised ideals and of their own code of conduct.
There are a number of ways in which the situation at hand could be remedied. The first is for WADA to completely open their records, offices, computers and staff to a thorough review by an international independent committee comprised of doctors, lawyers, athletes, lab technicians and researchers selected in conjunction by the IOC and the Court for Arbitration of Sport. The second is for the implementation of increased measures of confidentiality – be it more passwords, harsher penalties for violations, or more stringent hiring practices.
The communication between labs and newspaper or press sources is evident, regardless of what WADA claims. The third is for the man who has overseen all of these travesties, Dick Pound, to resign immediately. His lack of professional conduct, his pandering to the press and his continued tendency to disregard the ethical considerations of his post are unacceptable and can be resolved only through the tendering of his resignation.
We all want to believe that the sports that we follow and in which we participate are free of cheating. We must also however ensure that athletes, like all people, are indeed innocent until proven guilty, free of trial by press and protected from false accusations. Both the integrity of sport and the accusation of innocent athletes are at stake. In order to pursue both, we must -MUST- have an ethical organization dedicated to eradicating doping while simultaneously preserving the rights of athletes. This means relatively minimal contact with the press at every level of the organization, open records, conduct open to criticism and oversight. Until we have such an organization, we must continue to fight for it, or we will watch the very integrity of the sports we know and love wither away.
I've been moved to comment on the various articles appearing on the Swimming World Magazine Website over the past couple of days. Both articles refuting the original article have claimed that it is impossible for the labs to divulge the names of the samples being tested and therefore the labs cannot be the source of the leaks. Secondly, they assert that WADA is the only organization who knows the names which they can match up to the source. However, they say, WADA cannot be the source of the leaks because their is a code of conduct that prevents them from doing so. What they fail to address is that there is a leak, By WADA's own admission, they are the only organization that can match a test sample up with a name, so one can conclude that WADA is the source of the leak. A code of conduct does not prevent a rogue employee from contacting L'Equipe or other news media. Perhaps WADA needs to do an internal investigation to fix the problem instead of blindly refuting any criticism of their organization.
I'm curious as to why whenever people want to "right the wrongs" of the East German doping scandal, they always point to 1976. If they were to redistribute the medals of Montreal, shouldn't they also redistribute the medals of Moscow in 1980? Those games were just as tainted by the East German women. And, just because the Americans couldn't be bothered to show up and bullied the Canadians and West Germans into boycott as well, doesn't mean that Australian, British, Russian and Dutch athletes who did attend and competed don't deserve their rightful medals every bit as much as the 1976 swimmers do. If this is truly about justice and not just making a righteous point, then talk should be about Montreal and Moscow, not just the Games the Americans and Canadians participated in.
Good article. But you have failed to mention one high profile drugged up team. The USA Track and Field team. It is and always has been, up to its eyeballs on drugs. When talking cheats, this team is equal to the East Germans. How about a report on them? And how many medals they have stolen off the rest of the world.