Professional sports may never be entirely clear of doping, and needs help from pharmaceutical companies to catch cheats, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency said.
“We are getting better, but doping is still out there, and more than I wish it was,” WADA President John Fahey told reporters during a press conference in Paris today. Sports “isn’t cleaner” after the Lance Armstrong case, he said.
The Texan cyclist was stripped of his 1999-2005 Tour de France victories and banned for life from competing in sanctioned events by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The American body cited a career “fueled from start to finish by doping” when it released a 202-page summary of its investigation into the rider and the U.S. Postal Service cycling team on Oct. 10.
“We can be proud of what has been achieved so far,” French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron said during a doping conference in Paris today. The USADA’s “exceptional” work “led to the fall of a man who pretended to be the world’s best cyclist, but in fact was nothing but the biggest cheat.”
On Oct. 22 the International Cycling Union said it endorsed the USADA decision and wouldn’t appeal it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
WADA wants more blood tests among athletes, as it’s the only way to find some performance-enhancing substances, and the agency is pushing for the creation of so-called blood passports, David Howman, WADA’s director general, said in an interview in Paris today.
Still, urine tests and blood samples aren’t enough to uncover cheating, Howman said. WADA is working more closely with Interpol, police and customs officers to “gather evidence in other ways,” he said.
“Testing is not the ultimate panacea,” Howman said. In the Armstrong case, “there’s not much from the scientific analyses that led to the downfall of the whole conspiracy,” he said.
“It’s not just Armstrong,” Howman said. “We talk a lot about the athlete, but there were the trainer, the doctors” and the rest of the cyclist’s entourage. The cheating was “all” discovered “through information received from witnesses,” he added.
Large drugmakers and smaller biotechnology companies also need to get more involved to help find ways to stop athletes from improperly using medicines to cheat, Fahey and Howman said.
Athletes use approved medicines but they also resort to experimental drugs to enhance their performance. Any information on products in the early phases of clinical testing can help develop screening tests more quickly, Howman said.
“We are running a campaign of door knocking,” to contact major drugmakers for help, he said, declining to cite specific company names.
“The benefit for the pharmaceutical industry is that we also become aware of things that are being used in the black market and the black market is something the industry wants to clamp down on,” Howman added.
London-based drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc has an agreement with WADA to alert the agency to any performance-enhancing compound in its drug pipeline, including a compound’s chemical structure, to help WADA “begin work on detection methods,” Philip Thomson, Glaxo’s senior vice president for global communications, said today.
Glaxo is working with WADA on three molecules in its pipeline, including one at a more advanced stage of development, Thomson said.
“Through this work, we’ve learned that our initial questions, such as how much of our scientists’ time will this take, and will we be able to maintain confidentiality, have all been answered positively,” Thomson said. “We believe this initiative can be taken forward more broadly across the industry.”
Roche Holding AG also is helping WADA in its fight against doping, said Philippe Van der Auwera, global head of drug safety at the Basel, Switzerland-based company.
Still, convincing other drugmakers to share sensitive information on their experimental molecules won’t be easy, Howman said.
“It’s a significant impediment because to earn their confidence you have to show you deserve the confidence,” he said. “A lot of people take some time to be convinced.”
The International Olympic Committee on Nov. 1 opened an investigation into Armstrong’s bronze medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney. The Texan faces losing the medal he won in the time-trial event after being stripped of his Tour titles.
Armstrong, who has denied doping and said he never failed a drug test, declined to take the USADA case to arbitration.
Doping is increasingly becoming an issue as athletes now have easier access to performance-enhancing substances through the Internet, turning this into a public-health problem, Howman said.
“If parents knew what their kids were taking from people that hand stuff out at the gym, they would be absolutely horrified,” Howman said.
Armstrong is not the only athlete touched by tougher anti-doping policies. In August, the IOC stripped Tyler Hamilton of the U.S. of his time-trial gold medal from the 2004 Athens games after he admitted doping. Russian silver medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov was awarded the gold instead.
“We need a new deal for a cleaner sport,” Getachew Engida, deputy director general of the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, said today. “There are no chemical shortcuts to victory.”