The man who helped highlight the issues of doping and corruption in Russian athletics, Dick Pound, has pointed an accusing finger at golf, and claimed that drugs cheats are rife in all sports.
The former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, who is in Scotland to host a lecture at Stirling University on tackling the issue, says he remains confident it is a fight that can be won but insists that more rigorous testing is needed, while governing bodies and sponsors need to take their heads out of the sand and more whistle-blowers need to come forward.
A vocal crusader on the subject of stricter drug testing of all sports people since his days as vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, dating back to 1987, he said it would be naive to assume that any sport or nation is immune.
“We have all seen the shape changes in golfers and the distances they are hitting now and we know that the equipment is better and the balls are better but it isn’t just that,” said Pound, who recalled a conversation with the commissioner of the PGA Tour, Tim Finchem, stating that the sport which “has a great reputation for calling faults on yourself” could set an example to others by outing the cheats. But, the reply he received was disappointing. “He said: ‘Ah, but if I do that then they are all going to think my guys are just like those baseball players and football players and I don’t want that’. But if you follow some of the shape changes in the golfers and follow how, at a certain point, if they happen to come off them, you see how many more injuries they get. There’s a problem there.”
He revealed he has banged heads with other governing bodies over the years, from weight-lifting to USA track and field as well as cycling, tennis and even ice hockey. He says he has no sympathy for those caught cheating, but concedes there have been cases where people have been unwittingly misled by coaches or doctors.
But he says that should not allow them to escape unpunished, as they have still, knowingly or unknowingly, enjoyed a sporting advantage. That could range from losing a particular medal or being ousted from an event but no such leniency should be extended to those who know the risks and still opt to gamble it all for a shorter, easier route to victory, fame and fortune at the expense of honest, hard-working rivals.
“There’s always disappointment that someone’s cheated,” said Pound. “You’d like to figure out why they did it and thought they could get away with it, but they knew the rules, they cheated, and have to face the sanction. Maria Sharapova is a good case in point.
“It will go away as the certainty that you are going to be found out increases and the anti-doping agencies impose more meaningful sanctions. No one is going to change conduct if all they will face is a slap on the wrist but if they are going to be out for four years for your first offence, that’s a big chunk of your sporting life, unless you are in dressage, or something like that.”
The same drug that proved Sharapova’s undoing, Meldonium, has allegedly produced positive tests in football this week, with the Portuguese leagues under the spotlight. But football, worldwide and in Scotland, still needs to do more according to Pound and Stirling academic and anti-doping expert, Dr Paul Dimeo, who has studied the problems in this country.
With only eight tests reportedly carried out by the SFA in the last nine months, more needs to be done if any crackdown is to be taken seriously, according to Dimeo, who said that there was an ongoing evidence of denial in team sports.
“Without in-competition and out-of-competition testing then there is not the deterrent and people may feel that they could get away with something,” said Dimeo. “Anyone who understands the nature of the drugs could exploit that. I was surprised that the SFA and UK Anti Doping had allowed the number of tests to drop so dramatically over the past number of years.”
Pound said the problem was a longstanding one globally. “There is a huge amount of self-denial,” he added. “Three or four years ago, we looked at the Fifa list. How many registered athletes they had on their testing pool in the whole world? Ten. That’s not a serious indication that you want to fight it.
“There’s a double standard between individual sports, where there are immediate consequences, and in team sports where there are not. Fifa would agree to test two players on a team, randomly because you couldn’t target them and if one person tested positive, nothing happened. It was only if both players tested positive that you could target test others on the team. It didn’t determine your place in the league, or anything, so the testing they do is kind of meaningless.”
He says there should be more consequences for those caught cheating in all sports. Having chaired the commission investigating doping in Russian athletics, the findings of which were made public at the end of last year, the revelations of corruption, with the Russian state found to be complicit in the doping and the cover-ups, have led to calls for the country to be blocked from competing in Rio. Pound believes that would send a very forceful message to the world but is not convinced it will happen. “That would be a very gutsy call for the IOC. It would certainly be a very interesting decision,” he said.