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The Dick Pound Code: My Interview with Dick Pound

December 19, 2007, 1:09 PM ET [ Comments]

My interview with Dick Pound, head of the WADA, World Anti-Doping Agency

Do you know Dick? You should. Dick Pound is the man who bristled the NHL hairs with statements like these:

"You wouldn't be far wrong if you said a 'third' of hockey players are gaining some pharmaceutical assistance."

"...make sure the public understands that it's being fooled by the NHL when it says it has a serious testing program"

Who is he? He is head of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He is a former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and was a also a candidate for the presidency at one time. He is currently the Chancellor of McGill University, besides a practicing tax law attorney. He is the man who has who has been scrutinizing Lance Armstrong throughout his career. He has been a part-of or quoted-in most major doping stories, especially internationally. From Floyd Landis to Austrian coach, Walter Mayer to PGA golfer Gary Player to the NHL, he has had an opinion and viewpoint that usually raises the hackles due to his staunch advocacy of a strict code and guidelines in regards to sports doping. This code is what makes up the WADA. This is the code that flies in the face of most sports organizations who are loathe to give over control of dope testing, or ban 2 years on the first positive test, which the WADA subscribes to.

In lieu of the wreckage of the Mitchell Report on baseball, I tracked down Dick and asked him a series of questions which seemed apropos in lieu of baseball's trials and travails. I also asked Pound to expound on what he has previously said of the NHL. In it, you might find some new quotes, interesting allusions, and more of Dick's no-nonsense styling's when it comes to doping in sports.

B.D. Gallof: Do you still think your statement that 30% of the NHL were using performance enhancing substances was true? How did you get that number? How about now? Do you think that those numbers have dropped? What are the things that constitute "pharmaceutical assistance"? (you stated to Bettman that as much as a third of players were using pharmaceutical assistance)

Dick Pound: The estimate was given in response to a question of whether or not there was a drug problem in hockey. I had said that all sports were at risk. Did that include the NHL? Yes. How many players did I think may have used prohibited substances? I said it was hard to tell, because the Players and the NHL had chummily bargained away any right to test the NHL players (for 30 or more years), but that if I had to pick a "number," I thought one would not be far wrong at 30%. This includes those who had used any of the banned substances on the WADA List, not just steroids, as the NHL spin doctors tried to suggest. My comment included, for example, stimulants, known to be drugs of choice in hockey. Nor did I say that in every game on every day the re were 30% of the players using drugs, but that the 30% meant anyone who had used the drugs at any time.

Drugs include stimulants, steroids, hGH, EPO - anything on the WADA List.

B.D. Gallof: WADA's code is a two year ban at the first positive test. You've had a difficult time to get other sports organizations to move towards this type of hard-line. Does the Mitchell Report putting the issue at the forefront again might let these other organizations revisit this? Has anyone come to you before or after for advice, consultation or such?

Dick Pound: I have always thought that we could get the professional leagues to accept pretty well everything in the World Anti-Doping Code (Code) except the meaningful sanction period. I don't think the present mentality of either owners or players would accept the idea of a meaningful sanction for a little thing like drug use. Think of waht happens now: a good steroid program will produce benefits for four or five years, but the "firm" and "resolute" response of the leagues is a sanction of 4 games (NFL), 20 games (NHL) or 50 Games (MLB). For someone who wants to cheat to gain an advantage, it is a good investment to risk such a minimal sanction.

The professional leagues are not interested in what WADA has to say. Interestingly enough, however, the Mitchell recommendations for a testing system are almost identical to the Code, although WADA is not mentioned.

B.D. Gallof: Since most major sports organizations are basically large corporate businesses… do you think by that nature, they will be reticent to do anything that will affect their bottomline? Might this be the biggest gap in the distance between the WADA and the major sports organizations?

Dick Pound: I think it is bad business for any business to be seen to encourage or condone cheating. There have been many recent examples of businesses destroyed by cheating. If I were running the business, I would make sure that we embraced the highest standards of conduct and that we did not just talk the talk. The bottom line would be improved, not hampered, if (everyone) involved, players, owners and the public, were confident that there was no cheating.

B.D. Gallof: Are there other options than an immediate 2-year ban? Would being slightly more flexible in lieu of the financial realities that the major sports organizations get them to come further than they have been? Or do they need to "blink" and meet you and the WADA policy?

Dick Pound: That is a decision for them to make. But, if you want your program to provide both prevention and deterrence, the sanctions have to be serious enough to dissuade someone from using the drugs. The sanctions referred to above are not meaningful. I could see a gradual ramp-up as part of a policy of greater engagement in the process.

B.D. Gallof: By their corporate nature: Does this even further give sway to the argument that there needs to be independent drug-testing policing major sports? And, even with the example of a hard-hit MLB, will they still attempt to police it themselves?

Dick Pound: There will be no credibility at all if they insist on running the policy in-house. Mitchell made it clear that there would have to be an independent administration and transparent reporting on the results.

B.D. Gallof: We've seen professional wrestlers die in droves over the years, many stemming from some sort of issues with doping: Chris Beniot's double-murder suicide being one large exclamation point to a long list of others who have died before their time. Do you think we might see the health results of doping in other major sports, or have we already? Might it be a decade or two from now that we see the true results to all sports and doping?

Dick Pound: Because the doping activities have all been clandestine, it may be some time before comprehensive statistics are available, but I do not believe anyone can seriously maintain that there is no significant health risk involved. Don't forget, the players who do this are not trying to level a playing field - they are trying to create an advantage - so they err on the side of high dosages.

B.D. Gallof: With the new CBA agreement, the NHL introduced more severe punishments, education on the effects, and rehab help. What is your opinion of their system?

NHL: up to two no-notice random test during the season. 20 games at 1st postive test. 60 for 2nd. Permanent ban for 3rd (with appeal system at 2 years).

Dick Pound: I think any program must focus mainly on education and prevention, but this has to be combined with enforcement of the rules, very much the same as in society generally, where most obey the law, but we still need a system of police, courts and prisons for offenders.

B.D. Gallof: In June, 2006, you responded to the NHL's doping policy that due to the loopholes, their statement of no positive tests was "meaningless". Later on, you called it "a sham". Does this still hold true?

Dick Pound: Any program that is not 7/24/365 is doomed to be ineffective. The NHL program (at the time) was to warn the players for 6 months that they would be tested for steroids in-season. They then did the tests and had no positives, which they said "proved" that there was no drug problem in hockey! Anyone who had failed one of those tests would have also failed an intelligence test.

B.D. Gallof: As of now, there has been only one positive test: Sean Hill, last year, who was on the NY Islanders. He was banned during the playoffs and ended up being so for 20 games. Did they handle that situation appropriately? Is the NHL doing enough? And if not, what can they do better?

Dick Pound: They applied the minimal policy in his case. That is all you can say about it.

B.D. Gallof: Over the last few years, the following has been said in reaction to your statements on the NHL:

"(Pound) should be embarrassed by his baseless and uniformed allegations"
- Ted Saskin, former NHLPA executive director

Dick Pound: Ted (may he rest in peace) should be embarrassed by pretending there was no drug problem among his players.

"Doping is not a problem in our sport"
- Bill Daley, NHL deputy commissioner

Dick Pound: You cannot cure an alcoholic unless he admits he has a problem. Denial is not a solution.

"(the NHL should) Sue him . . . We are the cleanest sport in the world"
- Don Cherry

Dick Pound: When I went on his program, he agreed that the NHL should have a strong testing program. On that I agree with him.

B.D. Gallof
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