Sunday, October 4, 2015

Frank Shorter Responds to my Op-ed on USADA

Frank Shorter, the Olympic gold medalist and Boulder hero, has written an op-ed in response to mine on accountability in anti-doping agencies.  I encourage you to read his piece in full here at The Denver Post. It is an important conversation and I am glad that Shorter is engaged.

Below are my responses to Shorter's piece, embedded as italics within Shorter's op-ed.
A guest commentary writer in the Sept. 20 Perspective section made an inaccurate and misinformed assertion that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is "falling down on the job."
The "falling down on the job" quote does not come from my piece, but from The Denver Post headline writer. 
As an Olympic gold medalist and passionate advocate for clean sport, I was directly involved in the creation of the USADA. Having remained involved with the group and the anti-doping movement in general for the last 12 years, I feel compelled to correct some of the misperceptions. USADA conducts its work with the highest level of integrity.
Effective mechanisms of accountability will help us move away from attestations of integrity. I assume that everyone in USADA works with integrity. That does not make accountability unnecessary.
In 2000, the USADA stepped into a sports-testing world rampant with conflict of interest, and was tasked with independently and without bias enforcing the global anti-doping rules of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympic Movement.

The USADA was created with the goal of having absolutely no conflict of interest. Its sole mission is to protect the integrity of clean competition and the rights of clean athletes, and its carrying out of this mission is directed by an independent board of directors specifically created to be free from conflicts of interest.
Saying so doesn't make it so. USADA has placed itself into a clear situation of conflict of interest in boxing. More broadly, WADA also has some challenges with following its own COI guidelines.
Imagine that a big part your job each day is to hold America's sports heroes like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones accountable, and to protect the integrity of clean competition by making sure everyone plays by the same rules, no matter how famous.
The recitation of superstar athletes who were caught breaking rules is not a magical elixir that means that institutional accountability is unnecessary.
Then imagine receiving death threats against you and your family because some fans are unwilling to accept that sometimes sports figures are not actually heroic at all. For the hardworking USADA staff, this unwarranted backlash is a reality, because they must stand up for what is right regardless of what is popular.
Tell me about it. I've been in the climate debate for years. 
The opinion piece claims that "taxpayers provide the USADA with more than $10 million per year." This is false. The government grant to the USADA is less than that and is easily verifiable by checking USADA's website.
Here is my math.
It also implied that the overall money USADA receives is an immense amount. This is not true. In fact, the amount provided to USADA to carry out a national anti-doping program is less than half of the yearly earnings of many professional athletes.
It is common fallacy to assert that a relatively small amount of public funding means that accountability is unnecessary. That is wrong. USADA is an institution recognized under an international treaty by the US Congress and is overwhelmingly publicly funded. Therefore, it should be accountable to the public. Full stop.
The opinion piece also implied that the USADA has stepped outside its authorized role by assisting non-Olympic sports with anti-doping programs. The suggestion that there is something unethical about the USADA accepting such engagements, and the attempts to belittle this work as "moonlighting," demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of anti-doping and the important role that the USADA serves as a resource for sports entities wanting to implement similar anti-doping programs.
"Implied" -- "suggestion" -- "belittle" I'll focus instead on what I wrote.
I did ask USADA some questions that can help observers to clarify its roles and responsibilities. After several weeks, I am still awaiting a response.
I am exceedingly proud that the agency has chosen not to turn its back on athletes in non-Olympic sports. Because of that, athletes in a growing number of sports have the opportunity to compete in sport played fairly.

Congress provides the USADA with an annual grant, subject to renewal. The continuation of that funding recognizes and affirms the overwhelming success the USADA has achieved. If the USADA earns any money by taking on additional responsibilities to help advance anti-doping in other sports, these funds are channeled right back into the organization's efforts.
Greater transparency, rather than assertion, will help to resolve these questions.
There will always be conflicts of interest whenever the promoters of a sport attempt to police the athletes they represent. This is why the USADA is a much-needed, shining example of the model anti-doping solution.
For better or worse, sports institutions do not have the best reputation these days. That is unfortunate for those who are doing everything right. But that is the way that it is. Consequently, in such a context, public trust will be reinforced by openness and transparency, and not defensiveness at being asked challenging questions.
Frank Shorter is an Olympic gold and silver medalist and former chair of the USADA board of directors.


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