Dick Pound and WADA reach altitude

Pound himself is more than a watchdog, sometimes he sounds like a bulldog frothing at the mouth.

Believe it or not there is no ATP tournament this week. Yeah, finally, a week off. I have no idea why they don’t take a week off after the U.S. Open, I have no idea why they don’t take a week off after every grand slam. I suppose early round losers in the slams need something to do.

It’s vacation week for me, I don’t have to slog through pages and pages of statistics and fill out tournament draws. Speaking of which, I’m starting to work with a screen scraper program, software that is programmed to go to a websites and collect (scrape) information from the page so you don’t have to do it manually.

For instance, if I want to predict the outcome of a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Marcos Baghdatis, I would start by looking up their head-to-head record on the ATP website. If Davydenko had a 6-0 record over Baghdatis then I’d be done because I’d pick Davydenko to win. But Davydenko has a 1-0 record against Baghdatis, not conclusive at all, so next I would go tennis.matchstat.com and look up each player’s record for the last year then use that information to compare the players and pick my winner.

So far I’ve gone to three different web pages and that’s just to predict one match. If I’m picking a tournament with a thirty-two player draw, that would be a total of thirty-one matches times three web pages for a total of ninety-three web pages. If I program a screen scraper to get the data, all I have to do is enter a list of paired opponents for each round of the tournament and the screen scraper program would collect the data for me. It’s a fantasy player’s delight! When I get it working, I’ll tell you how to do it.

Meanwhile let’s look at some drugs. Drugs are an issue in most sports and that includes tennis. Guillermo Canas just won a challenger event in Brazil after returning from a fifteen month ban for using a diuretic that can used as a masking agent. In cycling, Floyd Landis will likely lose his Tour de France title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone and Lance Armstrong is feeling the heat as two of his teammates admit to using performance enhancing drugs.

That subject has been well covered but what about illegal training techniques, is there any such thing? I’m not aware of any though I suspect taping a football player to a movable object and letting other players use him as a tackling dummy might be illegal or, at the very least, worthy of a lawsuit. As brutal as that sounds, I do remember a case where a college football coach held a player while other players tackled him. Besides getting the strong message that he wasn’t very important to the team, the poor guy ended up with a bad shoulder injury.

When the World AntiDoping Agency (WADA) met last Saturday, they considered creating an illegal training technique by outlawing an object used to mimic high altitude training known as an altitude tent. WADA is the agency that controls drug testing in Olympic and some non-Olympic sports. The tent is under scrutiny by an anti-doping agency because athletes can use the tent to stimulate the production of EPO. This increases the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells and improves speed, strength, endurance and recovery. Athletes gets the benefit of high altitude training without moving to Boulder, Colorado.

A synthetic version of EPO is the substance all those cyclists were caught with in this year’s Tour de France and it’s the same substance that Marion Jones almost got caught with, her A sample tested positive but her B sample was negative. That result warrants a revisit to one of the many attacks on Lance Armstrong.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to believe that someone can win seven straight Tours when it seems like every other rider was using EPO, but when a French lab tests urine samples from the 1999 Tour de France in a research project and positive tests from those samples get connected to Lance Armstrong and those leaked results end up in the French newspaper L’Equipe, which just happens to be owned by the same group that runs the Tour de France, this does not qualify as valid anti-doping procedure.

The samples in that French laboratory were all B samples, the A samples no longer exist. WADA requires an A and B sample to test positive and the Marion Jones case shows the importance of that. After the L’Equipe article was written, Dick Pound, head of the WADA, called the tests “as close to 100 percent reliable as you could get” even though they were B samples.

Under Pound, WADA has turned into a very aggressive watchdog. The list of banned substances has multiplied and WADA is currently lobbying governments to ratify UNESCO’s Convention Against Doping In Sports which would make WADA’s regulations enforceable by law. If this is successful, WADA will have gone from policing Olympic sports to establishing global anti-doping laws dictated by its policies.

Pound himself is more than a watchdog, sometimes he sounds like a bulldog frothing at the mouth. He recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Ottawa Citizen – Pound is a Canadian and WADA is based in Montreal – in which he asked cyclist Floyd Landis and sprinter Justin Gatlin, who also tested positive for testosterone, to reveal their enablers, the people who provided them with drugs. He also took on the USADA and cycling with a rudeness that has pissed off many athletes and athletic organizations:

Who knows, USADA (the United States Anti-Doping Agency) may subscribe to a suggestion that both athletes (Gatlin and Landis), in separate sports, were ambushed by a roving squad of Nazi frogmen and injected against their will with the prohibited substances.

Take cycling in 2006. If 2006 were to be measured in the Chinese cycle, it would be the Year of the Excrement.

Pound is breaking the rules here, an athlete has to be proven guilty not indicted by WADA’s loudmouth president in the media. Still, his persistent criticism of cycling seems more accurate every day. And as much as I’d like to blame him, as Lance Armstrong does, for pressuring the French lab to produce the reports that linked Armstrong to the 1999 positive test samples, there is conflicting evidence. However, when it comes to outlawing altitude tents, Mr. Pound’s ego has outdone itself.

How would he enforce the ban? How will WADA distinguish between athletes who live at altitude and those who sleep in altitude tents? Why not just ban athletes who live at altitude because they have an unfair advantage? While they’re at it, WADA should ban Eli and Peyton Manning because they have unfair genetic advantage and ban LeBron James because he’s so damn talented. That’s unfair isn’t it?

I’d like to think that the world doesn’t need international anti-doping laws, I’d prefer that the individual sports organizations handled the matter, but it’s like unsolicited phone calls. Marketing companies put themselves out of business by failing to police themselves thereby spawning the National Do Not Call Registry and cycling seems to be doing the same thing. No one trusts cycling to clean itself up and this will move countries to accept global anti-doping laws administered by WADA and the huge ego of Mr. Pound.

WADA thankfully declined to outlaw the altitude tent last Saturday but it assures us that the tent is still under scrutiny. Drug testing in cycling and track and field is a mess but the thought of the egotistical and offensive Mr. Pound becoming the global anti-doping czar scares me. I’d like public pressure and investigative journalism to force cycling and track and field to clean up their act rather give the job to a man who wants to take over the world.

See also: No More Heroes – Palmeiro and Armstrong