'The doping battle will never be won': Wada president John Fahey delivers worrying appraisal
But Wada head tells Matt Majendie why the recent high-profile cases of Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell prove that the fight must go on
Wednesday 24 July 2013
As the words come from the lips of John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), they do so not with an air of resignation or despondency. If anything, it is a phrase expressed with a sense of determination for a battle which for him personally is drawing to a close.
“The fight against doping will never be won,” he says. It is a worrying appraisal, although he insists Wada are not throwing in the towel. “We must continue this fight,” adds the affable Australian.
Athletics is currently central to that tussle having made headlines in recent weeks with the five positive tests at the Jamaican National Championships in June – which included former Olympic gold medallists Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson – plus Tyson Gay’s recently revealed positive sample from a test back in May.
Of recent events, Fahey points out he will not discuss individual cases while ongoing, but says: “What’s occurred in that sport tells us that we haven’t solved this problem. It’s still alive and well.”
Gay, Powell and Simpson had all argued they had unknowingly taken banned substances. But Fahey hit back, saying: “Every athlete in the world is responsible for what goes in his or her system – that’s the start and finish. Every athlete has to make sure they know what they’re doing.
“My take is that no matter how big or great you are as a star and whatever your sport you’re not beyond the capacity to be found as a cheat through the methodology adopted. Every time that we catch someone, as much as it’s disappointing, it says to the cheats: ‘You can’t get away it, the odds are we will catch you.’”
The Gay and Powell news has followed wide-scale failed tests in Turkey and Russia, where this year’s World Championships will be held, many of which were the result of retrospective testing.
This, in Fahey’s eyes, is particularly key as it sends a message “to those that think you’ve got away with it, we will catch you”.
Recently maligned countries such as Turkey, Russia, Jamaica and the United States are not so much the cause of concern for Fahey, with Kenya cited as a recurring “hot-spot” location.
Impromptu tests were carried out on 40 leading Kenyan athletes in February following a surprise visit by officials from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and a regional testing facility has been set up there, which is stretched to the limit covering eight African nations.
“The IAAF needs to be applauded for their approach to Kenya,” he said. “A lot of distance athletes are using the high-altitude training camps for training purposes including some British distance runners of some note so that puts the focus on it.
“We’d dearly love Kenya, as it hosts so many top athletes in the world, to have an anti-doping organisation.”
Funding, as is often the case for Wada, is the key word in all this. Anti-doping organisations are financed by national governments and, in a country where the coffers are not necessarily overflowing, Fahey understands that health, education and infrastructure take precedence.
On the money issue, Fahey accepts that is an issue, especially in the midst of a global financial crisis. Wada’s budget for 2012/13 remained the same as the previous year and Fahey says: “All of this can be boosted if the money is there. Only by more research can the cure to diseases be found. This is the same methodology.”
Finance remains a key area for Fahey and Wada but, before the end of his term, his main goal is the presentation of Wada’s new code, a wide-reaching charter aimed at punishing not just sportsmen and women that test positive but those around them responsible for doping.
The aim of the code, which will be presented in November and is expected to come into force in 2015, is also to improve the structure of testing by various anti-doping bodies across the globe – “some are better than others” is Fahey’s take – and thus ensure less cheats fall through the loopholes.
Fahey is well versed in the politics of Wada, doping and sport, having been a former Premier of New South Wales and the finance minister in John Howard’s Australian government.
His term as Wada president finishes at the end of the year. Looking back on his five-and-a-half years at the helm of an organisation who employ just 60 people in their fight against global doping, there are areas where he feels particularly proud.
“I feel we’ve made great progress with law enforcement agencies, which is certainly the way of the future,” he says. “But also in terms of the education about doping, getting to people at fitness centres around the world early so they understand what doping means, not just cheating to gain an advantage but to consider your health.”
His message to all governing bodies and all sports is that “you can all do better”. Without naming names, he says they “all talk the talk but not all walk the walk”, and he believes a “new, more effective code” will address that. We have to be realistic though that it’s still human nature to cheat – from the beginning of time some people have tried to get an unfair advantage,” he adds. “We still have to be vigilant and wary to reduce that but it won’t go away in a hurry. There will never be a point where we’ll declare a victory. We appreciate we cannot eliminate it entirely but we need to get as close to the zero marker as we can.”
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