IOC VP Sir Craig Reedie: 'Anti-doping agency has own intelligence, Interpol helps track drug trafficking'

The Sochi Olympics are finally underway; sports competitions lead the news headlines. Exceptional in many ways, these Winter Games boast an unprecedented level of anti-doping measures – all to make the sports events fair. At the same time, political controversy is threatening to take the attention away from the actual race for medals. What is done to those who cheat for medals? Are the Games a suitable place for political bickering? We ask Sir Craig Reedie, vice president of the IOC and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency here, on Sophie&Co.

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Sophie Shevardnadze:Sir Craig Reedie, head of the world’s Anti-Doping Agency, welcome to our show. It’s great to have you with us. Now the new doping code takes effect in 2015 and the Sochi Games aren’t affected by it – so what special procedures are in place for these particular games?

Sir Craig Reedie: Well, they will operate under the existing code, which was agreed five years ago by the annual World Conference on Doping in Sport. People are perfectly clear on the regulations, they know the sanction period, the testing procedures are all pretty established. The new code changes some of these, but as you say, it won’t come into effect until the 1st of January 2015. I think the anti-doping procedures in Sochi will be good; there is a satellite laboratory established from the Moscow laboratory. There will be outside experts to help the staff of the Moscow laboratory provide the services, and I think the athletes of the world can be perfectly happy that matters will be good.

SS: But what exactly is going to be new in Sochi?

CR: I think the theme that will be newest is the number of tests the IOC will do; I mean, you have to understand that at the Olympic Games the whole drug testing responsibility lies entirely with the International Olympic Committee, not with the World Anti-Doping Agency. And for this occasion, for these Winter Games, the IOC wants to do around 2350 controls, 2350 tests. That is a marked increase on the numbers that were done in Vancouver four years ago, so to that extent the anti-doping fight is probably stronger, the attitude of the IOC is probably stronger than it has ever been at a Winter Games before.

SS:But is it true that athletes are going to be randomly tracked down by testers, for example?

CR: At Games the rules are that it is possible for testing to be done at any time. We will know, the IOC will know the whereabouts of the athletes - they are almost entirely in the Olympic Village; if they are not, then their national Olympic Committee will tell the IOC where they are, so it’s not a question of being tracked down, it’s a question of being called for testing. I don’t think “tracking down” is the right phrase. Obviously in competition, tests which are done as a part of a competition at the Olympic Games, the athletes are tested after they have competed, so we know clearly where they are.

SS:So tell me, are there any sports that you have to monitor more than others, like, for example where doping is more widespread? Does it matter less in team sports like hockey and more in the individual disciplines like skating?

CR: In general, the World Anti-Doping Agency supervises all sports. It would appear that there are some sports that are more prone to athletes who are prepared to take the risk of cheating than others. It’s happened occasionally in weightlifting, for example, the power sports, and that federation has done a great deal to make sure that they resolve their issues. One of the changes in the World Anti-Doping Code going forward is that over the next twelve months, WADA will be working with the international federations to produce a revised test program for them. So we will actually go through it, sport by sport on a specific basis, and we will test for those substances which are most likely to cause problems in the individual sports. Now, to use in the example, somebody once said, “there isn’t much point in testing chess players for the human growth hormone.” That’s an extreme example, but the testing programme, after a risk analysis, will be specific. So, with a bit of luck, that will make the testing regime more accurate. With a bit more luck, it will make it more effective, and it should probably make it slightly cheaper.

SS: What’s it like working with the Russian Anti-Doping Agency? Have there been any troubles along the way?

CR: I was elected on the 1st of January; my experience actually is based almost entirely on meetings during the World Athletic Championship in Moscow last August. I think there is a change in the attitude of the Russian anti-doping authorities; I think they are much more active. They seem to be dealing effectively with people who cheat, people who test positive; they are being banned from competition. They are actually doing more of what the anti-doping community all around the world will want them to do. I’m really rather encouraged and certainly the Russian sports minister at that time was very firm that this would be part of the Russian sports policy going forward.

SS: Do you know of any case where it wasn’t individual athletes cheating to get ahead, but rather their National Federation forcing them? Does that happen?

CR: There is some evidence that not necessarily the national federation, but perhaps people in the athlete’s entourage. And it could be that people in the entourage of the athlete are rather known to or appointed by the national federation. The new code will make penalties on those people, on the entourage, strict and much more effective and I think that’s a move forward.

SS: You’ve probably thought about that as well - why doesn’t the threat of a ruined sports career stop athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs? The news of suspension - whether they are world famous or not - is all over the place right away, and everyone then just looks at them as people who’ve committed crimes.

CR: Well, I wish I knew the answer to that. It seems to be part of almost human nature that on occasions some people will cheat. There are drugs in society and inevitably, I suppose, some of those drugs which are misused would also be misused in sport. One of the complications of course is that most drugs are designed to make people who are unwell better. It’s the abuse of these that is the issue. If we knew the answer to why athletes were tempted all the time, actually the World Anti-Doping Agency’s life would be a lot easier. We do some social research in that to try to identify the pressures. I suppose the ultimate answer is that in many sports – success in World Championships, success in Olympic games – means personal success, perhaps personal wealth, perhaps personal status. In other sports, in professional sports where people are awarded very, very well indeed, there is less pressure on them to offend by taking drugs. Two sports are never absolutely alike. I mean, the rewards available to baseball players or basketball players in the US are much, much greater than they would be to weightlifters in Eastern Europe.

SS:At your arrival as WADA’s head, you said that more efforts in intelligence are needed, even mentioning ex-FBI agents working for you. So what exactly does your intelligence department do? Do they spy on doctors and athletes, infiltrate their teams?

CR: Intelligence is all about gathering information. It can be done with some difficulty within one country. There is, for example, a very good intelligence unit attached to the UK anti-doping in London and they use a whole range of different opportunities to get information: they get it from the media, they have a whistleblower link – people can phone in and give them information. To get that kind of information across borders is actually quite complicated. What we do as an agency in our intelligence function is use the whole range of sort of independent information gathering. We have built relationships, for example, with Interpol and that helps us find out whether there is drug trafficking going on. One of the recent examples of success would be down in Australia where the Australia’s Customs Agency found out that drugs are being imported into Australia and clearly they were being used for sport, and for sporting purposes that nobody was happy with. So it’s that kind of thing, we are not a police force looking at individual trainers or individual athletes; we try to find out whether there are circumstances that would make cheating easier. And once we know that, it then becomes possible to take some action.

SS:Before we move on to another topic, I would like to ask you one last question about doping – and this is a million-dollar question. If doping is such a big problem – which it is, because no one was able to deal with it completely – why not allow people to use dopes? I mean, it could make for more entertaining competition and big money, bring more money to sports…

CR: That, Sophie, probably is the easiest question to answer that you’ve asked me. There are three standards within the World Anti-Doping Code. For positive tests, two out of three have to be there. One is that the cheating is performance-enhancing. Secondly, that it is dangerous to the athlete’s health, and thirdly, that it is against the spirit of sport. So it’s the second two that matter. I think it is entirely unacceptable that we allow people to administer drugs to athletes which could be dangerous to their health, and it is certainly against the spirit of sport. I want sport to be a contest between athletes, not doctors and scientists, and I will be doing everything as long as I am in this position to make sure that that never happens.

SS:You know what my viewers are saying to that, right? They are saying that at the end of the day, there is no professional sportsman who is healthy at the end of the road, because they are all very ill people. They have different traumas in their sports carrier, injuries. And also, they are telling me that this Olympics is actually financed partially by McDonalds, which isn’t necessarily the healthiest or the most athletic place in the world…

CR: I’m not sure that I agree with you. I know any number of Olympians, former athletes, and they are outstanding people. They live full and very healthy lives after their competition days are finished. There might be some sports that are more prone to continual injury – boxing, for example. I don’t have the statistics in front of me. I don’t think that is necessarily an issue.As far as McDonalds is concerned, the IOC sponsorship arrangements are such that without those sponsorships it would actually be impossible to run Olympic Games, and McDonalds have always their more modern and their healthiest menus when they put facilities inside the Olympic Park in London, for example. They are aware of the issue; they work very carefully all the time to make sure that the charge that they are unhealthy isn’t warranted. They’ve been longstanding sponsors, and in many ways they have served sport very well.

SS:To another topic you can ponder on. Do you think the Olympic Games is just an extension of politics?

CR: No, I don’t. The International Olympic Committee is a sports organization. The Olympic Games brings athletes of the world together in an atmosphere of friendship, of tolerance, of respect, and I think that can do nothing but good. The IOC is certainly aware that in practically everything they do, there could be a political reaction, or there could be a political observation of what we do, but we try to stay away from politics in a political sense. We are a sports organization, and we do much good. For example, sport came out of the London Olympic Games in a strong and good position, as it has been for many, many years, and that is a very good example of what we want sport to be, what we sporting events to be, and I hope that people will leave Sochi after the upcoming Winter Games with exactly the same feeling.

SS: What I’m saying is that a lot of people think that historically it is inter-related with politics; for example – the Black Power Salute, Hitler’s Games in Munich. All the boycotts, like the Apartheid boycott. What is that all about if not politics?

CR: Of course it was. The IOC now has a rule which says “Athletes may not make political gestures during Games,” perhaps caused by the Black Power example that you gave. The Munich issue is for me very sad, because my very first night at the Olympic Games was in Munich, all these years ago. This is a dangerous and difficult world in which we live. The IOC takes security of the Games to be a very, very vital part of organizing committees duties, and when there are increased dangers in the world, we have to react to that. And we are aware that our host governments will make sure that the Games are safe. If that’s politics, then OK, we have to live with politics. I think it is a sensible organization of a sports event. The issue is that the Olympic Games do so much good, and are regarded as doing so much good, that clearly people believe [think] they are potential target. Again, I’m pleased to say that in London in 2012, we were well aware of the security risks; security in London, I think, was slightly different from international security than it is in Sochi, but I am pleased to say that nothing happened.Since Munich, there has been one small event in Atlanta in 1996. That was one small bomb that went off in the Olympic Park. Since then, the Olympic Games have actually been very safe.

SS:You know that many have accused Russia of being overprotective when it comes to insuring athletes’ and visitors’ safety at the Sochi Olympics. Is there such thing as too much security?

CR: I speak from some of my experience, having spent seven years on an organizing committee, it’s very difficult to win any argument with the security people in the country, because the security people will say, “Well, it might happen” and you cannot prove that they are wrong. Security is paramount as far as the country is concerned, and it is very important as far as the IOC is concerned. What I hope will happen – I’m confident, absolutely confident, that the Sochi Games will be secure – what I hope will happen, is that once it becomes clear that they are safe, the organizing committee will be able to control the amount of security and control the attitudes of these services and people who are doing the security, to create a very happy ambiance of the Games. That’s a very narrow balance, and a difficult balance to get right, but it can be done.

SS:Why do you think some world leaders are refusing to come to Sochi, citing political reasons, while they have no problems, for example, going to Beijing?

CR: I’ve always believed that the Games are a hugely attractive event in world sport. I think it’s always been the policy of the host organizing committee and host country to welcome the athletes of the world, the whole of the Olympic family, and in fact anybody else who wants to come. If people decide not to come, in many cases it is their personal decision. That is perhaps domestic policies rather than anything else, and the IOC stays well away from that.

SS:Well, the IOC stays away from that, but viewers get the sense that these Games may be politicized. Do you think politics involved in the Games make them more entertaining to watch? Or does it hurt the spectators?

CR: My experience has been that if there is a political argument in the build-up to the Games, it stops about five minutes after the first sports competition starts. After that, the stories are all about sport. The stories before the Games frequently can have some form of political aspect, whether it is international politics, or, in many cases, domestic politics - you know, how much money has been spent, is the organizing committee good, bad, or indifferent, that kind of thing. As soon as the Games start, all of that stops and it’s all sport. IOC is used to it, we’ve experienced it before and I don’t think that politics and media stories in the build-up to the Games make them more interesting or less interesting. Ithink the sport takes over, and the Olympic sport is outstanding, and wonderfully attractive, as can be seen from the huge television audiences that we had in London and a huge television audiences we will have in Sochi.

SS:Why do you think cities everywhere are seeking to host the Olympics when most of them can’t really afford it and their budgets suffer? The financial consequences can be quite harsh; I’m thinking Montreal, it took them like 40 years to pay off its debt…

CR: It is part of the sort of folklore of Olympic movement that Montreal lost a fortune. The Games in Montreal actually broke even. What didn’t break even was the capital construction that went into Montreal to build the facilities, which has lasted and has been a benefit to the people of Montreal for every day of the 40 years since then. People should understand that there are two budgets involved here. One is the budget of the organizing committee to put on the Games, and the second is the budget of either the host city or the host country to provide the facilities. There is no reason why the IOC should build ice rinks for people in Russia; that can be done at any time. What happens is that countries and cities use the fact that they are running the Games as a catalyst to build new sports facilities. That was very true in London. If you look at the London experience, I think there were only two 50-meter pools for swimming in a city with a population of 7.5 million people. Now there are more; there were another two built in the Olympic Park. So the Games are used as a catalyst for development and the development and the facilities last for the next 40-50 years. We cannot have that cost added simply to the Olympic budget.

SS:And just really quickly, there seems to be a trend in Olympics that the current Games always feel like they are better than the previous ones. What do you think makes these Olympics better than Salt Lake, Vancouver, and Nagano?

CR: Well, I can answer that on the 23rd of February when I head for home. Looking at the build-up, I can’t remember a Winter Games where there was such a concentration of the ice sports in the one place, as there is in the coastal region in Sochi. It’s an absolutely outstanding effort and the facilities are world-class by anybody’s standards, and I’m not sure that that has happened in quite the same scale in previous Winter Games. If you go up to Krasnaya Polyana, then you’re building effectively a completely new snow sports resort up there, so certainly the investment that has been made will be of huge advantage to winter sport in Russia for many years to come, and some of the facilities which will be moved from the ice rinks to be exhibition centers or whatever will be a terrific asset to the people of that region around the Black Sea.

SS:Sir Craig Reedie, vice president of the International Olympic Committee, head of the World’s Anti-Doping Agency, it was great to talk with you on Sophie&Co, and we all hope that these Winter Olympics will be all about sports and nothing else. We will see you on the next edition of Sophie&Co.