Drugs in sport interview: Sir Craig Reedie

Sir Craig Reedie believes problems in Jamaica, where sprinters including Asafa Powell tested positive, have not been reported accurately. Picture: Robert Perry
Sir Craig Reedie believes problems in Jamaica, where sprinters including Asafa Powell tested positive, have not been reported accurately. Picture: Robert Perry
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BRIDGE of Weir is an unlikely base camp for the head of the world anti-doping movement but last Wednesday Sir Craig Reedie sat in a quiet restaurant in the Renfrewshire village just down the road from his home and spoke of the most serious subjects.

The cheating Jamaican sprinters, the doped Kenyan distance runners, Novak Djokovic’s rant against the way testing is administered in tennis, allegations of cover-ups and conspiracies, Lance Armstrong and all that. The place is as quiet as a church and he is recounting stories about the Olympics and the World Cup and the Tour de France. “Do you cycle?” he asks. “Everybody cycles these days. I’m 72 years of age and even I’m going around on a bike now.”

Doping is so pervasive in sport that it’s hard to know where to begin, which is a dilemma that Reedie may himself face when he takes over the presidency of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) from Australia’s John Fahey on 1 January. Reedie, a former chairman of the British Olympic Association and still a member of the IOC, takes over WADA at a time when the agency is under the cosh from its own kind. A recent report into the effectiveness (or otherwise) of what they do wasn’t conducted by some bitter athlete who had been caught in the doping net, rather it was delivered by one of Reedie’s predecessors, Dick Pound. His 26-page report stated that WADA was viewed as an “irritant” among sports federations and that it was “surrounded by stakeholders, some of which are self-interested or conflicted organisations”. He said that there was a lack of inclination on WADA’s part to name and shame sports bodies that fail to comply with their rules. On the back of Pound’s wounding words came the response from Don Catlin, the respected head of the drug-testing laboratory at three Olympics. Catlin said that WADA had “damned themselves over and over again”. Pound concluded that “the elephant in the room is the human factor, not the science, not the system… There is no concerted will on the part of virtually all the stakeholders to what is necessary”.

Pound had a combative style when he was in charge of WADA. Fahey, too, has not shied away from controversial issues during his term. Reedie, you sense, would rather gouge out his own eyes than get involved in a spat with anybody.

“My style is different to Dick’s and John’s,” says Reedie. “It would be entirely out of character if I suddenly decided I was going to be combative. All my life in administration I have never been combative, I have been consensual. I have tried to convince people that doing something would be a good thing to do and here are the reasons. People ask why do I want to do this job and the answer is that it’s important and that it is the last thing I’m going to do in sport.

“Dick’s report contained a fair number of criticisms and many of them have been picked up on and will come into force in 2015 when the new code takes hold. [Among the changes, convicted dopers will be banned for four years instead of two and there will be renewed focus on a doped athlete’s entourage]. I’m not sure I agree with Dick that there is no will to deal with this problem, though. I think there is will but it’s how you deal with it. He spoke about stakeholders. I got the impression he was talking about everybody, he was saying that sport doesn’t want to be hard enough on those people who cheat and governments aren’t prepared to pursue them either. That’s not my view.

“[Pound] said to me once ‘Are you learning to be cynical?’ and I said ‘Yes’ and he said, ‘Well, that’s a start’. Dick said he questions everything he sees. I’m not so sure about that. He did a huge interview in one of the newspapers and one of the sports he mentioned was his own sport of swimming and two days later in Barcelona I met two of the top swimming people, and two of the top anti-doping people in the world, Larry Bowers and Andrew Pipe, and I thought ‘What on earth is Dick talking about when swimming has people of that calibre in charge of the programme?’ No, I don’t doubt everything I see. I’m a glass-half-full man, not a glass half empty. I’m going to be unfailingly positive and will run the risk of being let down. So far in my career I’ve tended to like people rather than be instinctively suspicious of people.”

But there is so much to be suspicious about and so many in sport who do not deserve such latitude. In the list of sports under the microscope, cycling is one that is trying the hardest to cleanse itself. “I know Pat [McQuaid] and Hein [Verbruggen, the former UCI presidents] and Brian [Cookson, the current president] and I don’t want to get involved in that situation,” says Reedie. He takes an imaginary key and turns it on his mouth when asked about the allegation that McQuaid and Verbruggen turned a blind eye to doping. “What I will say is that maybe these grand tours are too long. I don’t think it would be the end of the world if they lasted three days less and didn’t go up quite so many high mountains. It wouldn’t be destroyed as a spectacle if the strain on the cyclist’s body was lessened somewhat. But cycling is really addressing its problems and that is a very good thing.”

The epidemic of doping in cycling was an international scandal, but there have been many of those. The Eufemiano Fuentes case in Madrid was just another. In administering banned products to his athletes, Fuentes, the doping doctor to beat most doping doctors, was convicted of crimes against public health. Only the cyclists on his books were named, but he has admitted to having clients from a range of different sports, including tennis, football and athletics. The blood bags of those athletes will not be analysed unless the law of Spain is changed to allow them to be examined. Andy Murray, not given to making controversial statements, has called the case of the unexamined blood bags the greatest cover-up in the history of sport.

“I used to play badminton with Andy’s grandparents so far be it from me to disagree with the Murray clan,” Reedie says. “WADA have consistently pushed Spain in the right direction. We objected vehemently to what happened and still say it would be of huge assistance if the judge in Spain released that information. I’m not sure it’s the greatest cover-up in history, there’s been a few of those. East Germany for a start. If it happened, I know that the people from Madrid who were bidding for the 2020 Olympics would have a wry smile because it counted against them in their Olympic bid. They were asked questions about Fuentes and all of that.

“The Fuentes blood bags haven’t been destroyed, but the issue is whether they will be. They’re not ours. We have spoken to the Spanish government and the Spanish anti-doping agency and they have appealed it. Everybody has. That’s the way their legal system works. The Spanish sports minister can’t do anything unless they can change the law of Spain.”

This is where WADA’s reality is seen. They have no power to compel. They must try to win arguments through debate. They must get to the heart of national governments and sporting federations upon whom they rely for their funding) and try to get them to see the light. Pound and Fahey had their own way of doing this. Reedie’s approach is starkly different. He doesn’t have a soap box. He has a political savvy.

In Jamaica, six athletes – including former world 100m record holder Asafa Powell – tested positive this year against a backdrop of criticism from former members of their national anti-doping movement. The perception formed that the much-decorated Jamaican sprinters were never tested and lived in some kind of oasis of freedom. “What people seem to have missed is that all these Jamaican athletes are in the testing pool of the IAAF,” says Reedie. “They’re tested. They are not a test-free zone. My view is that Jamaica misjudged what the rest of the world expected of them after they became so successful. They relied too much on the IAAF to test for them. The whole system has been changed now and the government of the country has picked the ball up and they’re running with it. There was talk of Jamaica being declared non-compliant and of them possibly being thrown out of the Olympics. There was no chance of that happening. David Howman [WADA’s director general] is accused of saying that there was a chance of them facing expulsion from the Olympics. He denies ever saying it. I spoke to him and said ‘David, you didn’t say it, but sorry, the whole world out there believes that you did’. We had to live with that criticism, but Jamaica will improve. Their governance was not good. They got it wrong and saw the error of their ways.”

On Friday, there was glamour galore at the World Cup draw and promises, from Sepp Blatter, that the greatest show on earth will be the greatest of all-time next summer, but Brazil has already failed in the doping world. Their testing laboratory was a shambles, so much so that the 700-800 tests that will be conducted during the tournament will, most likely, be transported to Lausanne for examination.

“The lab wasn’t efficient,” confirms Reedie. “It made mistakes and it lost its accreditation. The labs have to get it right. If we can’t trust the labs then the athletes can have no trust in the system at all. I spoke with Sepp Blatter a few weeks ago about the problems of the Rio lab and he asked if there was any way of getting accreditation approved and I said ‘No chance’. Whose fault is it? It’s Brazil’s anti-doping agency’s fault. The lab was incompetent, they got it wrong. The last mistakes they made were on three football cases.

“They missed substances or said it was a different substance. All labs go through the testing process every year. They get blind samples and we send them. We don’t flag it up that this is from WADA but we send them and we know the results and we want to know if they discover what we already know. If they get it wrong we want to know why and if they keep getting it wrong we go to them and we say, ‘Sorry, we’re withdrawing your accreditation’. It’s very embarrassing for Brazil.”

There is an issue around every corner. The International Tennis Federation has come in for flak for its performance on doping, a failure that was intensified in the cases of Marin Cilic and Viktor Troicki and the public statements of Djokovic when verbally attacking WADA and its doping officials as negligent. The Serb was sticking up for his mate, Troicki, who was banned for 18 months for failing to take a dope test. Troicki said he was given permission by the doping officer to take the test the following day.

“I don’t know where Djokovic is coming from,” says Reedie. “I simply do not agree that doping control officers are incompetent and I don’t believe that a doping control officer would tell a player that it was OK to come back tomorrow to take a test. The ITF said they don’t accept the criticism. Should they have sanctioned him for shouting his mouth off? I don’t know. I don’t know if they have the power. Mr Djokovic said some things that were wrong and unacceptable.”

The challenge for WADA is to fight all these fires. They are not the global policemen on doping. They need governments. They need governing bodies. Shouting at people is not the way forward, says Reedie. One of the great battles is for funding. Their budgets are falling. The UK anti-doping agency has been a success since it was created in 2009 ahead of the London Olympics but it has had its funding cut by 27 per cent since it began.

“We can whinge about it but it doesn’t do any good. I think we have to be smarter in what we do and we have to go and find some new money from somewhere. We used to spend about $5.5 million-$6m on research but that is now down to about $3m. We could do with more money for research and we’re going to have to put more money into IT. We need to improve WADA’s intelligence function. We have a former FBI man working for us in Montreal but that side of things is modest and we need to improve it. There’s an awful lot of things we must try to do.”

If there’s a will, there’s a way…