Tuesday, October 20, 2015

USADA Should Appear Before Congress Once a Year

Well out of the public eye, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency or USADA faces a crisis of confidence. USADA operates under special recognition by the US Congress and most of its funding comes from the US taxpayer. USADA has lately been pressing for the US government to broaden its mandate into horse racing.

The crisis of confidence stems from USADA's involvement in boxing and other combat sports, which goes beyond its Congressional mandate. USADA contracts with individual athletes to provide anti-doping services, much like a private company. This secondary activity, unlike its role providing services to Olympic athletes, has been accompanied by various allegations of missteps and even wrongdoing by USADA.

The crisis of confidence in USADA is not simply that these allegations might be true, but rather, that we have no way of knowing whether they are true, and USADA has adopted a fortress mentality inconsistent with a public agency.

Here is just one example.

The most prominent boxer with whom USADA has contracted with is Floyd Mayweather. Rumors have dogged Mayweather and USADA for years that he failed three doping tests for which USADA after-the-fact granted exemptions.  This matters because anti-doping tests are supposed to mean something, and not offer simply a fig leaf of due diligence. If Mayweather was in fact granted such exemptions, it would raise some important questions about the integrity of USADA's forays into boxing. If Mayweather was not granted these exemptions, then it is important to dispel the rumors with facts.

This was the line of thinking that Michael Woods, a reporter, had when he approached USADA asking for clarification. He asked USADA a simple yes or no question, whether Floyd Mayweather tested positive three different times.

USADA refused to answer the question, and instead pointed Woods to a 10,000 word response to an article critical of USADA, which was non-responsive to Woods' query.

This is, to put it mildly, both remarkable and unacceptable. USADA requires that athletes under its purview (except those that it contracts with independently) disclose their whereabouts 24/7/365. These athletes are required to be 100% open. It is not too much of a logical leap to think that the agency that demands such individual accountability follows with accountability and openness in its own practices.

Sports bodies have been criticized of late for leadership that is too entitled, not transparent and unresponsive to public or athlete accountability. USADA has given the public impression of adopting these imperious ways. If I had a dollar for every time that USADA officials mention Lance Armstrong, I could fund my own anti-doping agency. Catching Armstrong was important, to be sure, but it does not mean that the agency does not still have a job to do and a public to serve.

One recommendation is that in exchange for the almost-$10 million in public support that USADA receives, and before Congress expands its mandate, that the agency adopt some common sense governance reforms. Among these might be leadership term limits, an independent external board comprised of elected officials and other independent individuals, and a requirement that the head of USADA testify before Congress at least once a year, under oath.

It is true that boxing is a niche sport followed by a few and even then fewer still care much about USADA's role in boxing. USADA has avoided greater scrutiny because it mostly flies under the public radar. But this issue should be of importance to all athletes, especially those who, in principle, USADA is supported to serve first.

To read more:

Thomas Hauser on USADA's failings (here)
USADA response to Hauser (here)
Hauser rejoinder to USADA (here)

Me on USADA's accountability problem (here)
Frank Short's response to me on behalf of USADA (here)
My rejoinder to Shorter (here)


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