Thursday, August 14, 2014
A Sport in Conflict with Itself: Policing vs Promoting
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 13, 2014--The approach that can help insure racing’s survival might have been outlined two years ago when Travis Tygart, the CEO and Counsel to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, was invited to speak at the annual Jockey Club Round Table conference here.
That day Tygart’s message reached many of the industry’s most influential stakeholders and, intertwined with Senate investigations into a spate of equine injuries and fatalities, the idea of federal regulation was introduced.
What everybody thought they knew then, and still believes, is that federal legislation can’t work because individual states control racing’s rules and regulations and there’s no realistic chance that the status quo would ever change.
Horsemen’s groups cite the progress being made on the medication front. Matters like these take time, they say. The issue is highly charged and has become political as proponents and opponents have dug in their heels.
And the wheels of politics grind very slowly, if and when they grind at all.
So now it is two years later, reform hasn’t come, and neither has significant progress been made unless you believe that having nine of 38 states implement a two-tier drug classification is a big step forward, or that 12 of those 38 have state veterinarians dispensing raceday Lasix.
And what is one to make of the fact that only six of the 38 have adopted new penalty guidelines for multiple medication violators, or that a mere five—and this excludes New York, California, Kentucky and Florida—have adopted all phases of the National Uniform Medication Program?
This Sunday, Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills Phipps reiterated what everybody knows should be done but won’t because of economics and expediency:
“Our horsemen and our customers all deserve a level playing field with uniform rules and clean competition,” Phipps said. “We need the National Uniform Medication Program to be implemented in every racing state and we need uniformity of rules and greatly improved lab standards.
“We need a penalty structure that is strong enough to be a meaningful deterrent — not one that would allow a trainer to amass literally dozens of violations over the course of his career and continue training. And we need to eliminate the use of all drugs on race day.”
At the National Museum of Racing the following morning, Tygart returned to Saratoga for an informational meeting as a guest of the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance, WHOA, a grassroots organization of prominent owner-breeders.
The gathering wanted to hear what Tygart had to say and were looking for guidance as how to best implement a strategy that would keep horseracing viable as a sport and an industry going forward.
Tygart said that USADA could assist the racing industry if all factions would push for federal legislation authorizing the agency to handle equine drug testing and enforcement--based on guidelines the industry would provide.
“We’re here for the right reasons or we wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Tygart said. “We’re not here to promote the sport or grow revenue for it. We’re here to protect the rights of the participants.
“Our interest is in a clean sport. Yesterday was a big moment and racing should be proud of what the Jockey Club has done [in requesting enabling federal legislation]. I’m honored to be here to help. The vision of USADA is as guardian of the life values learned through true sport.”
Part of the opponent’s disinformation campaign is that USADA involvement equates to a federal takeover. “When USADA was founded in October, 2000, the best thing we did was to hand off the testing to independent organizations,” said Tygart. “That’s how the Olympics dealt with their drug issues in the late 1990s.”
“There are three components to uniformity, independent policies and enforcement: Enabling legislation authorizing USADA to handle equine drug testing and enforcement; funding, because you can’t afford not to if you want to grow the pie, and the model--what does the process look like?”
In 1999, USADA had evidence that cyclist Lance Armstrong was using an EPO gel but had no test for the substance. Five years later a test was developed. They analyzed a frozen sample and concluded that the EPO levels found in Armstrong did not happen naturally.
“There were gross variations of blood values,” he explained. “The chances were 100 percent that these changes did not happen naturally and that the EPO was entirely synthetic.”
The Agency was instrumental in the Balco case, too, which Tygart also prosecuted. Ultimately, Tony Bosch’s admitted on “60 Minutes” that if tests hadn’t proved ball players were using Human Growth Hormone, his company would still be distributing it.
Alex Rodriguez was among the players caught when testers enhanced the HGH detection process. “HGH was difficult to detect. There was only a 72-hour window or users would test negative. Later, a new test had a 21-day window.”
That’s why out-of-competition testing is so important as a deterrent. “Whistle blowers play an important role,’ Tygart said, “and that’s why independence is so important.” If there is no accountability, [competitors] will join the cheaters. That’s just the way it is.”
“The problem could be solved quickly. The lack of out-of-competition testing is a big problem. Under USADA 67% of the tests was out-of-competition. In racing, it’s less than one percent.” This technique has been instrumental in detecting HGH, insulin growth factors, EPO and derivatives thereof, steroid cycling therapy, and Testosterone.
Athletes won’t go to their sport’s regulators to complain for fear of recrimination. Cyclist David Zabriskie was the whistle blower that helped take down Armstrong, telling USADA his coaches told him that “if you don’t use these drugs you won’t be allowed to compete.
“In cycling, athletes who didn’t cheat made it happen. It’s a difficult talk [to have],” Tygart admitted. “Following appearances on television after the PETA video, I got a number of e-mails from potential whistle blowers.” Tygart would not specify how many.
With USADA’s oversight, five athletes failed to make the 2012 Olympic team because performance enhancers were detected. “What’s the point of winning a medal that you’d have to give back later?”
Tygart is willing to help horse racing because he has grown to love the sport. He is not quick to say yes to any request made by a sports league. The NFL came to the Agency in the early 2000s for help with its drug culture issues, a problem analogous to racing’s.
USADA advised the NFL that their athletes should not be allowed to use medication on game day. When the league refused, the Agency walked away. “We can’t help a sport that doesn’t want to clean itself up.” Tygart believes there should be no medications, including Lasix, allowed on raceday.
If USADA had the authority to perform equine drug testing, it would develop rules with industry input, not make them unilaterally. Said Tygart: "Legislation obviously is the best route because it [would allow] for a top-down approach.”
Written by John Pricci