Independent panel concludes USATF didn't follow rules

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The Independent Online

An independent commission concluded today that USA Track & Field did not intentionally cover up athletes' positive drug tests but did not follow procedures and was slow to inform authorities about violators.

The panel also divulged that one US athlete, who it refused to name, tested positive for a performance–enhancing steroid before last summer's Olympics, but was allowed to compete at the games.

The commission, created after doping controversies at the Sydney Olympics, sharply criticized USATF for not following procedures designed to promptly identify athletes who used performance–enhancing steroids or other banned drugs.

"Although the commission's own inquiry determined that no positive drug tests were in fact 'covered up,' USATF itself did not receive audit reports that were intended to account for every positive drug test, thereby failing to use a tool it had created to help ensure the integrity of its program," the Independent International Review Commission reported.

The commission also faulted USATF for interpreting athletes' privacy protections too broadly, and refusing to disclose enough information to the sport's international governing body, the International Amateur Athletic Federation, about US athletes suspected of doping violations.

USATF's interpretation was so restrictive that "its effect was to prevent the IAAF from enforcing its own doping controls on an international level," the commission said.

As for disclosing positive drug test results, USATF "did not always do so in a timely fashion ... and frequently did not issue a required public announcement of the violation," the commission said.

For instance, the commission reported USATF did not disclose to the IAAF 17 drug tests from US athletes, and the testing laboratory did not divulge the results until just a few weeks prior to the Olympics.

"Its policy of nondisclosure was, in the commission's view, inconsistent with this stated serious commitment to combat doping in international sport," the commission said.

The commission divulged that one of the 17 cases "involved an athlete who competed in the 2000 Olympics and who had previously tested positive for an anabolic steroid."

The report said USATF originally determined the athlete committed a doping violation, but he or she was subsequently exonerated by an appeals panel shortly before the games.

USATF did not advise the international sports body "of the athlete's identity or the basis on which the athlete was exonerated," the report said.

The independent review commission consisted of a Canadian law professor who specialized in doping cases, the former chief executive of Bethlehem Steel, a barrister from New Zealand, and 1972 Olympic diving medalist Micki King.

Their investigation was handled by prominent Washington attorney Robert Bennett, who represented former President Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.

The commission was asked by the US Olympic Committee and USATF to investigate doping allegations that surfaced at last summer's Olympics.

Most surrounded 1999 world shot put champion C J Hunter, the then–husband of gold medal sprinter Marion Jones. Hunter did not compete at the Olympics after testing positive for steroid use.

International Olympic Committee officials said that Hunter failed four separate tests for steroids, and that USATF did not disclose them in a timely manner.

The independent commission concluded that USATF did inform the IAAF "well in advance of the Olympics" that Hunter had tested positive for the steroid nandrolone. But the commission faulted USATF for failing to inform the U.S. Olympic Committee.

"The Commission is of the view that USATF should have informed USOC of Mr. Hunter's pending positive tests or at a minimum it should have informed the USOC that he was not going to compete in the Olympics," the report said.

The commission faulted USATF for not following several international and U.S. rules, including:

– Following the IAAF's requirement that an athlete be suspended as soon as there is evidence of a doping violation. USATF "declined to enforce the provisional suspension ... because it believed U.S. law precluded it from doing so."

– Complying with some of its doping control regulations for deadlines and reporting requirements.

– Meeting its obligations to inform US and international sports officials of the whereabouts of US athletes, making it harder for US athletes to submit to out–of–competition drug testing.

The commission said USATF's failure to suspend athletes as soon as there was a positive drug test was based solely on concerns that U.S. law prohibits "depriving an athlete of the opportunity to compete without a full adjudicatory hearing."