The USOC to approve independent drug testing agency

Seeking to quell criticism of its anti-doping program, the United States Olympic Committee is expected to approve an independent agency to control everything from test samples to sanctions. The new agency would take domestic drug testing entirely out of the USOC's hands and remove the USOC and its governing bodies from the hearing process.

Seeking to quell criticism of its anti-doping program, the United States Olympic Committee is expected to approve an independent agency to control everything from test samples to sanctions. The new agency would take domestic drug testing entirely out of the USOC's hands and remove the USOC and its governing bodies from the hearing process.

The USOC board of directors, meeting on Saturday and Sunday, will vote on whether to approve funding of up to $24m for four years for the new agency, double the amount the USOC now spends on drug testing.

"Hopefully, one of the byproducts of this would be to take us out of the glare of the kind of criticism that we get, particularly from European countries, that we do our own drug testing, therefore we're the fox guarding the henhouse," USOC spokesman Mike Moran said. "This group would have a board of directors and employees that would be chosen by itself."

The agency, which would still use IOC-accredited labs in Indianapolis and Los Angeles, would be responsible for the collection of test samples, handling, processing, transportation, lab results, notification, sanctions and the appeals process.

If the new agency is approved, a bid process will be held to select the company that would run the agency.

The issue of independence is similar to one faced by the International Olympic Committee, which wants to have its World Anti-Doping Agency operating by early next year.

US drug adviser Barry McCaffrey, who has criticized the IOC's drug-testing efforts, met on Wednesday in Washington with IOC vice president Dick Pound at a Senate Commerce Comittee hearing on drugs in the Olympics.

This was the IOC's third appearance of the year on Capitol Hill. The IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, is to appear before a House committee in December to discuss IOC reform.

The sharpest criticism of the IOC at the hearing came from Doriane Coleman, a Duke law professor who helped set up out-of-competition testing in the United States in the 1980s. She called WADA "a false start" because it lacks independence and accountability.

WADA initially plans to conduct 5,000 out-of-competition tests a year and defer testing in some sports to existing federations.

"So long as testing continues to be conducted by the IOC or member entities ... then nothing's being done," Coleman said.

Pound countered that since the IOC has only one-eighth representation on WADA's board, the IOC cannot control the agency.

Coleman praised the USOC's plan to remove drug testing from its control, but said it still wouldn't be completely independent since the board of the agency will be composed of USOC members or those selected by the USOC.

Moran defended the agency's independence. He said non-USOC members would be picked by "public-sector members of the USOC who have no affiliation with USOC organizations."

Other items on the USOC board's agenda this weekend are the selection of the US bid city for the 2007 Pan American Games - either the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina or San Antonio - and a report on restructuring the USOC.

The report by McKinsey and Co., which has been making a management review of the USOC for nearly six months, will recommend structural changes. Among those will be a redefinition of the duties of the president and executive director.

The recommendations will require a change in the USOC constitution, which could not take place before the next board meeting in February.

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