Interview with Former Anti-Doping Czar 'Doping Is Organized along Mafia Lines'

For years, Richard Pound was the world's top anti-doping official. SPIEGEL spoke with him about scary new doping possibilities, the culture of performance enhancement in cycling and mistakes made at the Olympics in Beijing.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Pound, 11 months ago, your stint as president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, came to an end. Do you miss the job?

Pound: It is fun to be the head of something; I like being able to make things happen, to direct people. But do I miss the job? No. I did it for eight years; it was time to go. The cemeteries are full of people who think they are irreplaceable.

SPIEGEL: One of your last official duties was a meeting with Victor Conte, who for years supplied an undetectable drug to American athletes. Conte says he gave you the name, address and telephone number of a doping dealer who works with Jamaican track and field athletes, and that he advised you to conduct an undercover investigation. What did you do?

Pound: At the time, I talked to Conte about the way in which a doping system operates, how underground laboratories work. I promised him I would not reveal any details of our conversation to the general public. That would be like a police inspector passing on the statement made by a witness straight to the press. I can tell you that Conte had some very interesting things to say, things that I was not yet aware of. He also said that he had documents which he would only be able to show us this year. That was two weeks before I took leave. I passed on all the information to the WADA General Director David Howman.

SPIEGEL: Do you know what happened to the material?

Pound: I thought WADA could manage to crack a doping ring if it stuck at it. If I had still been the president I would have met up with Conte a few more times. But the present management does not seem to consider that necessary. I’m disappointed; I was convinced we could have made additional and better informed progress.

SPIEGEL: What went through your mind when Jamaica’s Usain Bolt set new world records in the 100 and 200 meter races at the Olympic Games in Beijing?

Pound: Well... what can I say? It was an extraordinary achievement.

SPIEGEL: Do you believe that Bolt is clean?

Pound: I would rather not answer that question. Generally speaking everyone now has doubts when an athlete who has never stood out before suddenly excels himself.

SPIEGEL: No independent doping tests are carried out in Jamaica. Why not?

Pound: We created a regional anti-doping agency for the Caribbean. I do not know what degree of out-of-competition tests were performed.

SPIEGEL: Couldn’t WADA force it to?

Pound: No. But the IOC can rule that countries that do not stick to the rules are excluded from the Olympic Games.

SPIEGEL: Do you think Rogge is doing a good job?

Pound: Seven years ago I ran against him and lost; anything I were to say against his presidency would be interpreted as jealousy. So I won’t comment on that. But I do think the IOC has made a number of very serious mistakes, particularly as regards the Games in China.

SPIEGEL: What mistakes?

Pound: The IOC jeopardized the games’ going ahead. The way it dealt with the torch relay and the delay in getting sufficient Internet-access.

SPIEGEL: Are you surprised that Rogge is running again next year?

Pound: I would have been surprised if he hadn’t.

SPIEGEL: Will anyone run against him?

Pound: No.

SPIEGEL: You won’t run again?

Pound: I had my chance. Besides I have learned in the meantime that I am not cut out for that job.

SPIEGEL: Why not?

Pound: I’m not gentle enough. The IOC President has to be pliable. I’m not; I like to take aggressive action. I think that intimidates people.

SPIEGEL: During the Olympic Games there were omissions during the doping tests; at the moment all the samples are being tested again for the drug CERA. What result are you expecting?

Pound: I don’t know. What is clear is that CERA was used during the Tour de France, so I wouldn’t rule out its having been used at the Games too. However since the Tour, since they caught Ricardo Ricco, the athletes know that we can detect CERA. So anyone who took it in Beijing must have an IQ below room temperature.

SPIEGEL: Hein Verbruggen, the former president of the International Cycling Union, and his successor, the Irishman Patrick McQuaid, are against follow-up tests. How do you explain that?

Pound: I’m not surprised they don’t want these tests. The two of them also claim in all seriousness that there is no serious doping problem in competitive cycling. That’s ridiculous. Doping is not an exception in cycling, there is a doping culture.

SPIEGEL: The doping dealer Angel Heredia says there are countless underground laboratories that manufacture drugs which cannot be detected by doping tests. Isn’t WADA fighting a battle it cannot win?

Pound: It will always be a race between the cheater and those who are playing fair, but we are reducing the gap. Our aim has to be for 99.9 percent of athletes not to dope, and for us to catch the remaining 0.1 percent.

SPIEGEL: But surely that’s unrealistic.

Pound: Do you think so? When I got my driving license, cars with seatbelts didn’t exist. Then wearing a seatbelt was voluntary, and eventually it became mandatory. Now, you have to pay a fine if you don’t wear one. But I don’t put on my seatbelt nowadays to avoid being punished; I put on my seatbelt because I have understood that it is dangerous not to. And I attribute that much common sense to athletes too. It’s a question of changing their attitude. Perhaps we’ll be there in 15 years.

SPIEGEL: How does WADA intend to deal with organized doping crime?

Pound: The doping system is organized along mafia-like lines. So what we need is close collaboration with the police and public prosecutors. Our weapons are too limited; we can only test urine and blood. Police investigators can read e-mails, tap telephones. Their arsenal is bigger than a bottle of pee. Getting the executive authorities onto our side is an arduous process, but we have recently started working with Interpol. Step by step we are moving ahead.

SPIEGEL: Should people who resort to doping be put behind bars?

'The World of People who Dope Is a Sick World'

Pound: In countries where that is the will of the population -- fine. There is no reason to be nice to people who cheat.

SPIEGEL: One method used by WADA to get at the information about the people behind the doping system is a leniency program. Someone caught doping can reduce the duration of his ban by making a comprehensive confession. The German racing cyclists Jörg Jaksche and Patrick Sinkewitz took advantage of this rule; but Jaksche has been without a job ever since, Sinkewitz only rides for a second class team from the Czech Republic. Do you think that in the light of these cases anyone will be willing to testify any more?

Pound: I am quite sure they will. Cycling is an exception there. The fact that Jaksche was unable to get a job again is a tragedy. It says everything about the sport they were involved in. What would have been normal is for the cyclists, team managers and officials to stand up for them. The fact that they are being branded as traitors shows that competitive cycling has no enthusiasm for doing anything about doping.

SPIEGEL: What do you make of the fact that the German public television networks ARD and ZDF will no longer be broadcasting the Tour de France?

Pound: That is a strong signal. If I were the head of a sport faced with that I would tell my riders and colleagues: “Look, if we don’t solve the doping problem, we’re all going down the drain together. We can make the stages shorter. We can introduce rest days. Something has got to happen, otherwise we’re finished.”

SPIEGEL: John Hoberman from the University of Texas is calling for two classes to be introduced in sports, allowing those with and without doping to compete separately among themselves. What do you think of that?

Pound: I find that unrealistic. Let me approach it from the other end: What happens if someone who uses drugs competes against those who don’t? Then we are right back where we started. And letting the doped athletes loose against each other would mean deregulating doping. That’s dangerous, because the athletes would push each other further and further so as to gain an advantage. People have the habit of exploiting liberties to the point of self-destruction. The doses would become higher and higher, and at some point they would be so high it would be like taking poison.

SPIEGEL: As the head of the marketing commission you negotiated the sponsorship and television licensing contracts for the IOC from 1983 until 2001. Your negotiations helped turn the Games into a billion dollar industry, and if there is more money to be made, the temptation to cheat is greater too. Aren’t you trying to banish the spirits that you yourself summoned?

Pound: Oh really? How many rich weightlifters do you know?

SPIEGEL: Not many.

Pound: There you are. Money is not as crucial an incentive as everyone thinks. In some cases, money may play a role: among professionals, for example, who are 34 and who want to continue for another one or two years so that they can collect their $10 million paycheck. But a kayaker?

SPIEGEL: If it isn’t the money, what then?

Pound: Human nature. Everyone wants to be the best at what they do. I want to be the best lawyer, you the best journalist, and Marion Jones wanted to be the fastest woman. But we know about decency and morals, Marion Jones didn’t. She didn’t care how she achieved her goal.

SPIEGEL: Marion Jones, who was sent to prison for perjury in connection with the Balco scandal, was tested 160 times during her career and they never found anything.

Pound: The statement “I have never tested positive” doesn’t mean a thing. It’s more the case that it makes an athlete looks suspicious if he or she keeps repeating that claim incessantly.

SPIEGEL: When did your own personal battle against doping begin?

Pound: I had my awakening at the 1988 Olympic Games. Because Seoul was the first time that I stood face to face with an athlete accused of cheating. It was my fellow countryman Ben Johnson; he had just won the 100 meter race, establishing a new world record.

SPIEGEL: What exactly happened in Seoul?

Pound: Two days after Johnson’s victory, I was at the diving competition with my wife in the morning. After that we went and had lunch in the suite of Juan-Antonio Samaranch, who was the IOC president at the time. The board of directors of Coca-Cola was invited too. Samaranch came up to me and said: “Dick, listen; have you heard the news? The terrible news?” And I asked him whether someone had died. “No, it’s worse than that, much worse. Ben Johnson tested positive.”

SPIEGEL: How did you react?

Pound: “Oh, shit.” During the meal people were constantly congratulating me on Ben Johnson outstripping the terrible Carl Lewis. And I thought: If only you knew. Later there was a meeting in my hotel room with the Canadian chef de mission; the team manager was there, the team doctor and Charlie Francis, Johnson’s coach. I told Charlie, that Stanozolol had been found in Ben’s urine, and he started blustering away: “Stanozolol! Stanozolol! I don’t want my guys to be on Stanozolol on the day of the competition. That stuff stiffens them up, but I want them to be loose.” And that was when I realized that it was not a question of whether or not Johnson had taken drugs, but only how many and since when. After that I was asked whether I would defend Ben. I was uncertain; I wanted to speak to him first.

SPIEGEL: How did the conversation go?

Pound: My wife picked him up in the lobby. Some journalists had already assembled downstairs; news had leaked out that a well-known sprinter had tested positive. The Britons had already announced a press conference; they wanted to admit it was Linford Christie. I went into the bathroom with Johnson: “Ben, did you take anything?” He said no, again and again. He had such an innocent look. Today I know that his behavior -- lying to oneself and to others, having no honor, no conscience -- is typical of someone who dopes.

SPIEGEL: Was it immediately clear to you at the time that Johnson was not telling you the truth?

Pound: Basically yes, because I knew that it was far more likely that doping hunters might overlook something; but if they do find something, the athlete is in a tough spot. Nevertheless, we went before the medical commission of the IOC, and there Manfred Donike of the Sports University in Cologne said: “Mr. Pound, are you interested in the test results?” I am a lawyer; I know the phrases. At that moment I knew that Ben was done for. It turned out that Johnson had been doping for a long time, and extensively.

SPIEGEL: As the head of WADA, the top doping hunter, you have a lot of enemies. Were you treated with hostility during your term in office?

Pound: Of course. The cyclist Lance Armstrong once wrote a letter to the IOC demanding that I step down or be removed from office. I received lots of hate e-mails, telling me to keep out of sports. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority believes in doping-free sport, so I had more friends than enemies.

SPIEGEL: Who did the hate e-mails come from?

Pound: From fans, from referees, from athletes. Ice hockey pros were extremely abusive to me. I got into a fight with the National Hockey League because I said that their anti-doping program was non-existent. In Canada, ice hockey is a religion; I was almost excommunicated. But that doesn’t worry me. I expected to meet with opposition. The position brings that with it.

SPIEGEL: A nightmare scenario for any doping investigator is performance enhancement through genetic engineering. When do you think the time will be ripe for that?

Pound: I don’t know. But there are already clinical trials, so we have to take this threat very seriously. Because one thing is clear: If genetic doping is possible, then cheating using anabolic steroids will be about as modern as prehistoric painting. There is a scientist in Pittsburgh, Lee Sweeney of the Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who has succeeded in increasing the muscle mass of mice by up to 35 percent using genetic engineering. Half of the e-mails he receives are from athletes, who write: “Try it out on me.” When Sweeney answers that he works with animals and has no idea how a human body would respond to this kind of intervention, they write back and say: “That’s okay, do it on me anyway.” The world of people who dope is a sick world.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Pound, thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Maik Grossekathöfer and Cathrin Gilbert

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