Clashing Agendas: Antidoping Officials vs. U.S. Olympics Leaders

by admin February 28, 2017 at 12:54 am

“Fighting with an organization responsible for giving future Olympic Games — it’s a big mistake,” Mr. Smirnov said about Mr. Tygart’s criticism of how global sports officials have responded to the doping scandal.

United States Olympic officials and various power brokers involved with the bid have expressed concern to lawmakers that the clean-sports crusade could alienate some of the global officials who will decide which of two cities, Los Angeles or Paris, hosts the 2024 Games.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday, Congress will draw new attention to Mr. Tygart’s advocacy, as he addresses a House subcommittee about the doping scandal and the ways in which the global sports system could be improved.

Testifying alongside him will be Michael Phelps, the world’s most decorated Olympian; Adam Nelson, an American shot putter who was awarded a gold medal nearly a decade after his 2004 Olympic performance when a competitor was disqualified for doping; as well as officials from the I.O.C. and the World Anti-Doping Agency, to which the United States contributes $2 million annually.

Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee, acknowledged that over the last year his organization had discussed the pending bid, along with a range of other issues, with both the House and the Senate.

The Senate Commerce committee, which has not called a hearing but confirmed that its parallel inquiry was continuing, said on Saturday that it had “challenged suggestions that the 2024 bid is a legitimate rationale for stopping or delaying necessary oversight of doping in international competition.”

Mr. Blackmun said he thought a congressional hearing would be “more productive” after international sports officials had signaled how they planned to address the scandal, and that he supported lawmakers’ desire to stay informed. He also said he supported the fight for clean sports, but that his organization prefers a quieter approach.

As the Russian doping scandal was roiling global sports weeks ahead of the Rio Olympics, with sports officials scrambling to respond to the pressure Mr. Tygart and others were applying in calling for extreme sanctions, the American Olympic committee worked to stave off congressional attention.

“We were not saying hearings were inappropriate, but instead that right in front of the Olympic Games is not the right time,” Mr. Blackmun said.

“Travis’s style, I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t having an impact,” he said of Mr. Tygart and the nation’s Olympic bid. “At the end of the day, he’s doing his job, and he’s doing it really well. Would we like him to be a little bit more of a silver-tongued devil? Yes, we would.”

Mr. Tygart shrugged off the critiques of his methods. “It’s not unusual when you’re trying to do the right thing that there are attempts to pressure you to back off these fundamental values,” he said.

Though based mere miles apart, the two prominent officials rarely cross paths in person. If ever, it might happen at the airport, as each of them travel frequently. They speak by phone every two to three months.

While both organizations are aimed at serving American athletes, their pursuits are not always in harmony. The tension over the last year has not surprised American athletes who have expressed frustration at what they call global officials’ hesitancy to discipline Russia for systematic cheating.

Photo

Travis Tygart, America’s chief antidoping official, will address a House subcommittee about the Russian doping scandal and the ways in which the global sports system could be improved.

Credit
John Thys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The I.O.C. is responsible for the integrity of the Olympics and keeping it functioning, and they’re not doing it,” said Sarah Konrad, an American biathlete who until last month was chairwoman of the United States Olympic Committee’s athlete advisory council. “I know Scott Blackmun thinks more needs to be done by WADA and the I.O.C., but he’s not willing to get out and stand on a pulpit and say that because of the bid.”

Asked to respond to Ms. Konrad’s statement, Mr. Blackmun called her “a very smart person.”

The host for the 2024 Games will be determined in September by secret ballots cast by the roughly 100 members of the International Olympic Committee, representing countries from Brazil to Liechtenstein to North Korea. Russia has three members.

The global officials are accustomed to autonomy and may bristle at this week’s scrutiny from the American government, prompting some like Ms. Konrad to wonder if a hearing could cause more harm than good.

“We want the I.O.C. to be independent, nothing to do with politics,” Gerhard Heiberg, a longtime I.O.C. member from Norway, said. “That is of course not possible, but it could be very difficult to have one nation getting involved in how we are handling doping and putting pressure on us.”

Mr. Heiberg said that whims often guided the individual votes of I.O.C. decision-makers. “On Sept. 13, when we choose between Los Angeles and Paris, a lot of people will vote with their hearts,” he said.

Congress’s interest in the doping scandal, Mr. Tygart’s activism and the United States’ inquiries into international sports corruption — from the FIFA case focused on soccer’s global governing body to a Justice Department investigation into the Russian doping scandal — could inform how some of his colleagues voted, he said.

“It could affect some members — ‘you want the Games, fine, but don’t mix things up,’” Mr. Heiberg said.

Gian-Franco Kasper of Switzerland, who sits on the I.O.C.’s executive board, also said that Mr. Tygart’s outspokenness, coupled with Donald J. Trump’s election, could diminish Los Angeles’s attractiveness as host.

Mr. Trump has expressed public support for the Olympic bid, though some of his policies — most notably on immigration, including his recent executive order barring visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations — have caused concern among sports officials.

Mr. Blackmun said the American Olympic committee had received assurances from the State Department and Homeland Security that global athletes and officials would have no trouble entering the United States in 2024.

“The Games are more than seven years away at this point and, candidly, the I.O.C. has been through this a number of times,” Mr. Blackmun said. “I think they have the ability to look past what I would call the short-term political or situational environment.”

As a dwindling number of cities have expressed willingness to host the Olympics, the I.O.C.’s president has suggested he would like to see fewer “losers” in the bid process, setting off recent speculation that both Paris and Los Angeles could be chosen at the same time to host two future Summer Olympics, for 2024 and 2028.

Even so, Mr. Blackmun emphasized last week in his fifth-floor office in downtown Colorado Springs, decorated with oversize photographs of American athletes marching in various opening ceremonies, that the United States was exclusively focused on hosting in 2024. If Los Angeles receives the bid, Mr. Blackmun said, the Summer Games could make an example of the country’s strong antidoping system.

A 10-minute drive north, Mr. Tygart walked into the antidoping agency’s staff kitchen and pointed to an array of motivational words decorating the wall. “Courage,” he said, gesturing above the refrigerator. “That’s the most important one.”

Mr. Tygart’s colleague Edwin Moses — an Olympic medalist and chairman of the American antidoping agency’s board — expressed consternation that the agency’s principled positions might undermine the bid.

“If standing up for the rights of athletes and fair play somehow makes a country less likely to host the Olympic Games — wow,” he said. “That says about all you need to know about that process. It’s also exactly why sport has no business trying to police itself.”

Ms. Konrad, the Olympic biathlete, said she appreciated that Mr. Tygart had sacrificed a cozy relationship with Olympic officials, displaying the independence he and others have called for regulators to embrace at the global level.

“I can sympathize with people showing restraint because they want L.A. to happen,” Ms. Konrad said. “But a clean playing field is more important to me than a home playing field.”

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