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World Anti Doping Agency Director General David Howman has confirmed a new weapon in the fight against doping, namely a rule due to come into existence on January 1 under which penalties will apply to anyone working with banned personnel, with those who have otherwise been found to have engaged in doping-related activities and even with intermediaries who are acting as a go-between between these and athletes.
Although bodies such as Italian Olympic Committee CONI has suspended riders before for working with individuals such as Dr. Michele Ferrari, a lack of global regulation in this area has enabled riders and others to slip through the net at times in terms of this practice.
A tightening up of rules in this area will make that far harder to do, though. If riders or team staff work with any prohibited personnel from the start of next month, they will be liable to punishment.
Speaking to CyclingTips, Howman said that clause 2.10 in the 2015 WADA Code should make a considerable difference.
“We got this new prohibitive association clause coming in,” he said. “With that, from January 1 we will have to notify athletes and others of a list of people that we know are banned or have been criminally convicted in order to ensure that they don’t associate with these characters.
“If athletes do, then they can be sanctioned. It’s quite a big step forward after January 1; I think it’s going to be a big help with banned individuals.”
In July 2012 the US Anti Doping Agency handed down lifetime bans to Dr. Michele Ferrari, Pepe Marti and Luis Garcia del Moral in relation to their work doping riders on the US Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.
Marti subsequently fought this in arbitration but he and former US Postal team doctor Pedro Celaya were handed eight year bans in April of this year. Former US Postal/Discovery Channel manager Johan Bruyneel was given a ten year ban.
The UCI and WADA have both appealed the leniency of those bans to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. That procedure is yet to be concluded.
Under the new WADA rules spoken of by Howman, anyone working directly or even indirectly with these and others in a similar position will be liable to sanction.
“Once the athletes are notified [about the suspended individuals – ed.], they will be banned if they continue to associate with those sorts of people,” he confirmed.
He said that international federations such as the UCI would help in monitoring banned individuals and those who work with them. Under the new Code, anti-doping organisations with information about such sanctioned individuals must pass on that information to WADA.
Ferrari has previously been monitored closely by CONI and the Italian police. However CyclingTips understands that he is living in Switzerland and thus likely not being scrutinised as closely as he previously had been.
WADA gave ‘lots and lots of stuff’ to CIRC
WADA previously had an at-times tense relationship with the UCI. Former WADA president Richard Pound famously went head to head with past UCI chief Hein Verbruggen, berating him for not working hard enough to eliminate drug use in the sport. This led to a defamation action by Verbruggen against Pound.
Tensions continued after both stood down from their positions. Verbruggen’s successor Pat McQuaid also had a difficult relationship with WADA at times, particularly in relation to the Lance Armstrong investigation. The UCI tried to take over that investigation from USADA, prompting concerns that it could be trying to whitewash the situation and its involvement. It had previously been accused of helping protect Armstrong.
However the UCI was outmanoeuvred by USADA when that agency published its entire reasoned decision online. The sheer weight of evidence saw the governing body accept the lifetime ban USADA had handed Armstrong.
Verbruggen, McQuaid and others who were previously with the UCI during the Armstrong years are amongst those who are under the microscope in the current Cycling Independent Reform Commission [CIRC] inquiry.
It is gathering evidence and is expected to announce its findings in the coming months.
According to Howman, WADA has made a significant contribution to the information being amassed by the three-man panel.
“We’ve given them lots and lots of stuff,” he told CyclingTips. “We didn’t hold back, we just gave them boxes of material and we would expect them to look at it all.
“If they have follow up issues, they will ask us about that. From our point of view, it’s being conducted – to date anyway – in the way that we had anticipated. It was professionally done.”
Asked how different relations were with the UCI now as compared to under Verbruggen and McQuaid, he said that there have been pronounced changes.
“I think we got through a couple of siege periods which were stimulated by others, not ourselves,” he said. “Those sieges are now over. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and we certainly are getting on pretty well with the Cookson team. We don’t really have any concerns.”
As for whether or not he believes that cycling is in a better position than it was in previous years, he said that there are some grounds for optimism. However he said that the outcome of the CIRC’s inquiry would give a much clearer picture of how things stand.
“I think the leadership is certainly heading in the right direction. We are waiting to see the outcome of the independent commission,” he said. “We were interviewed by them and we know many others who were, including Lance Armstrong.
“We are now looking forward to seeing that report because that will then, hopefully, put past years behind everyone.”
“We are aware of the number of new EPO-style products”
While the outcome of that report is being awaited, the anti-doping fight continues in other areas. The highest-profile case currently being disputed is that involving the Czech rider Roman Kreuziger, who is currently being taken to CAS by the UCI after his home Olympic Committee cleared him of blood doping charges.
CyclingTips spoke to the doctor and anti-doping campaigner Mike Puchowicz this week. He expressed concerns about what he said were persistently elevated levels of reticulocytes [immature red blood cells] in the rider’s test results, saying that this could possibly be indicative of an undetectable doping product.
Kreuziger claims that his blood results have been affected by legal treatment for hypothyroidism.
Questioned about possible new doping agents, Howman confirmed that WADA was on the lookout for these substances and that it and others were trying to ensure that athletes couldn’t escape detection.
“Probably the only answer I can give you is that we are aware of the number of new EPO-style products out there, and we have to keep an eye on those,” he said. “We alert the labs, and we work out ways of detecting them.
“There hasn’t been any change in that, it’s happened regularly over the last seven-eight years.”
Asked if the need to devise a test could mean a time lag, he accepted that this could be the case. “Of course there has to be,” he said. “At least you can get advanced warnings though the pharma [pharmacological company] that’s producing something and you can work alongside them. We do do that, but it depends product to product.”
Indeed WADA announced such a cooperation on Wednesday, confirming an agreement with Pfizer.
“But don’t forget that’s where the biological passport comes in a little bit as well,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter what sort of EPO you are using, the change in profile ought to be picked up.”
The biological passport has been in existence for several years, and looks for signs of the results of doping – such as elevated haematocrit – rather than traces of the doping agent itself. It has however been reported that some blood manipulation could previously take place without triggering the passport; anti-doping researcher Michael Ashenden conducted a study which showed it was possible to receive a small blood transfusion without that being picked up under the passport.
Howman said that WADA and others are continually improving and tweaking the passport in order to prevent people slipping through the net.
“We’ve got to be always alert to the fact that once people work out a system, they will work out how to beat it,” he said. “You’ve got to be alert to that and tighten it up. We had a meeting this morning about that. Trying to improve the passport is the sort of thing that we would do internally, anyway, pretty regularly.”
Asked for specifics, he said that he couldn’t elaborate as there was a risk of giving away important information. “I can’t tell you all the secrets, otherwise people will know,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s always being worked on.”
Howman was similarly tight-lipped about tests for autologous blood transfusions and AICAR, saying that he wasn’t in a position to comment on either at this point in time.
As was the case with CERA in 2008, WADA is clearly hoping to use the element of surprise to nab doping athletes using hitherto undetectable products and methods.
CyclingTips asked Howman if he was happy with how the passport has influenced sport. He said that he preferred to focus on what more could be done. “We’d be happier if more people were running a programme,” he explained. “We need to persuade more international federations and more national anti-doping agencies to have it.
“That will be one of the their tasks for next year,” he concluded. Cycling, meanwhile, has already had that programme in place for several years and will hope that improvements to it plus new tests will further step up the fight.