WADA considers taking over drug testing for US track and field

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The Independent Online

An international agency on Monday will consider whether to take over drug-testing of American track and field athletes, a move prompted by allegations that the US federation covered up positive cases.

An international agency on Monday will consider whether to take over drug-testing of American track and field athletes, a move prompted by allegations that the US federation covered up positive cases.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will examine a proposal from USA Track & Field to assume control of the American body's entire drug control program, a precedent which could be extended to all countries and all sports.

The credibility of the U.S. system came under fire during the Sydney Olympics with accusations by the International Amateur Athletic Federation that USATF had suppressed 15 positive tests in the past two years.

The pressure intensified after news leaked out that shot putter CJ Hunter, husband of Marion Jones, had tested positive four times for the steroid nandrolone last summer.

With the integrity of U.S. testing at stake, USATF chief executive Craig Masback suggested that WADA take over all in-competition and out-of-competition controls of American athletes and adjudicate all positive cases.

While denying any cover-ups and insisting that USATF had observed the rules, Masback said handing over drug testing to WADA would help restore international confidence in the system.

Dick Pound, the Canadian IOC official who heads WADA, has welcomed the proposal and will submit it to the agency's executive committee Monday.

"It seems reasonable to me," Pound said in an interview. "It's an interesting proposal and we might very well be happy to take it in hand."

Pound suggested that USATF would continue to fund the anti-doping program while WADA handled the testing.

But he said it wasn't clear how WADA's role would mesh with the new U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent body headed by former marathoner Frank Shorter, which took over the national testing program on Oct. 2.

USATF has commissioned an independent commission to examine its drug testing procedures. The panel is due to report its findings by the end of the year.

"I am more certain than ever that we did nothing wrong," Masback said. "Letters and reports to the IAAF were all made in timely fashion. All will come out."

IAAF doping chief Arne Ljungqvist has accused USATF of continuing to withhold details of 10 positive cases, including two in which athletes were exonerated after testing positive for nandrolone.

Masback has cited confidentiality rules preventing the disclosure of names of athletes until due process has run its course.

Johan Olav Koss, the former Norwegian speed skater who serves on WADA's executive committee, has writen to Masback urging him to drop the policy.

"The confidentiality rule doesn't protect the innocent, it protects the guilty," Koss said. "If they are guilty and they still compete it is unfair to the others."

The USATF case is one of several issues on the agenda for a virtual anti-doping summit in Oslo this week.

The two-day WADA meeting will be followed by a two-day conference of government officials from around the world - known as the International Consultative Group on Anti-Doping in Sport.

Both bodies will review the drug testing system in Sydney, where more than 3,000 in-competition and out-of-competition controls were conducted in the biggest anti-doping program in Olympic history.

Eleven positive tests were recorded, with five athletes stripped of medals.

WADA, set up in November 1998 to coordinate the global campaign against doping, will receive a report from a group of independent observers who monitored the IOC's drug testing procedures in Sydney. The initiative was taken in part to remove any suspicions that the IOC was covering up positives.

On other issues, WADA will:

- consider whether to carry out an inquiry into reports that 61 Italian athletes, including five gold medalists in Sydney, registered high levels of human growth hormone in blood tests earlier this year.

The Italian athletes have all denied using banned substances and the Italian Olympic Committee has branded the claims as "morally irresponsible."

- assess the 10 cities bidding to become WADA's permanent headquarters: Barcelona, Spain; Bonn, Germany; Lausanne, Switzerland; Lille, France; Madrid, Spain; Montreal; Nice, France; Singapore; Stockholm, Sweden, and Vienna, Austria.

WADA is currently based in Lausanne, but many believe the agency should move out of the IOC's home city to assert its independence.

WADA is expected to name a short list of four to six cities. A final decision is expected next June or July.

The Oslo meetings will mark the farewell of Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug policy adviser who had been a sharp critic of the IOC but was instrumental in WADA's formation. He is leaving his post to pursue work in the private sector.

McCaffrey's departure, and the uncertain status of the US presidential election, leaves future American involvement in WADA unclear.

"I hope they won't let up," Pound said. "There is a fair amount of momentum built up after a sort of rocky start. I think we had managed to make a 'believer' out of (McCaffrey) by the end. I hope whoever the new drug czar is will not let the moment dissipate."

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