Cycling: independent agency should handle drug testing

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The Independent Online

An independent world agency should take over drug-testing for all international sports, the head of world cycling said today at the start of a global anti-doping summit.

An independent world agency should take over drug-testing for all international sports, the head of world cycling said today at the start of a global anti-doping summit.

Hein Verbruggen, president of the international cycling union, offered to hand over all drug control matters to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and said other Olympic federations should do the same.

Leaders of two other major sports, track and field and swimming, said they were prepared in principle to go along.

"For the first time in my life as a sports administrator, everybody sees how complicated this doping problem is," Verbruggen said after a meeting of WADA's executive committee. "Now finally everybody understands that it's impossible for an international federation to do all this.

"There is only one conclusion. WADA has to take care of everything, the detection methods, the controls, the procedures. Then it is all done in a professional and independent way."

Verbruggen, who received spontaneous applause from WADA members after his remarks, said cycling was prepared to lead the way.

"If you want to start with one federation, start with us," he said.

Verbruggen said his federation, which spends around dlrs 2 million a year on drug testing, is willing to continue to fund the controls for WADA.

Cycling has been badly scarred by performance-enhancing drugs, particularly the endurance-boosting hormone EPO. The doping scandal at the 1998 Tour de France - the sport's showcase event - brought worldwide focus on the drug issue and led to the creation of WADA to coordinate global anti-doping efforts.

Verbruggen testified for five hours on Oct. 31 in Lille, France, in the trial of French cycling star Richard Virenque and eight former teammates facing a variety of charges stemming from the Tour scandal.

"In France, I am blamed by a judge that I have not been capable of finding a test to detect EPO in 1992-93," Verbruggen said. "That's absurd. It's 2000 and we still don't have a foolproof test. What the hell do they blame me for? The federations are not responsible for detection methods."

Officials of the International Amateur Athletic Federation and world swimming's governing body, also attending the WADA meeting, welcomed the idea of the agency handling testing for their sports.

WADA chairman Dick Pound, who envisions the agency eventually controlling drug testing for all sports and all countries, said more work needs to be done to reach that goal.

"They're not there yet," he said.

But White House drug policy chief Barry McCaffrey said he was confident that all federations will consent to WADA control.

"There's a growing recognition that organizing sport and being its policeman is a bad deal," he said. "I think there's a sea change in the mindset of many of these elite sports leaders. ...

"WADA would essentially become the drug testing regime for the global competition community. The question is: How quickly can we deliver the goods?"

Pound and McCaffrey said WADA should eventually replace the IOC as the drug-testing authority at the Olympics, possibly as early as the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City but more likely by the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

The WADA panel ran out of time Monday and didn't get to several key issues on its agenda. Those included a proposal from USA Track & Field, accused of covering up positive tests, to hand over its entire drug control program to WADA.

That issue will now be addressed Tuesday at a meeting of the full WADA foundation board.

McCaffrey said it's likely the new U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, headed by former Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter, will handle the testing for USATF while the world body would have an oversight role.

The U.S. agency plans to conduct 5,000 tests next year, including half on a no-notice, out-of-competition basis, McCaffrey said.

On other issues:

- Pound said WADA, which has conducted more than 2,000 out-of-competition urine tests this year, will begin screening for EPO in 2001. WADA will use the combined blood-urine test that was introduced at the Sydney Games, but Pound said he hopes a direct method can be validated to trace EPO use back further than the three days of the current system.

"If we can get a test that goes back 2-3 months, I think EPO is finished," he said.

- the committee began assessing the 10 cities bidding to become the permanent headquarters of WADA.

The candidates are Barcelona, Spain; Bonn, Germany; Lausanne, Switzerland; Lille, France; Madrid, Spain; Montreal; Nice, France; Singapore; Stockholm, Sweden, and Vienna, Austria.

WADA had planned to name a short list of four to six cities, but only managed to cut the field to seven. The finalist cities will be disclosed Tuesday.

McCaffrey said the United States supports Montreal's bid.

WADA is currently based in Lausanne, but McCaffrey and others insist the agency should move out of the IOC's home city to assert its full independence.

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