Officially retired since December 31 after completing his third and last term at the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Montreal lawyer returns for an interview with Press on its remarkable passage.
After more than an hour of interview, Richard Pound knew for whom his next call would be: the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Why the hell, he asked aloud, was the most recent Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling on Russia not being made public?
The Montreal lawyer had his own idea. In this decision seen by some observers as a defeat for WADA, Pound sees more of a victory. Admittedly, he is disappointed that the country’s suspension has been reduced from four to two years.
“A 16-year-old takes a stimulant and receives a two-year sanction,” he notes. Here is a country that for at least 10 years – and we know it lasted longer – subverted the entire sports system, was found guilty, but only got two years. ”
He considers that this reduced sanction is “the price of a unanimous decision” on the part of the three arbitrators, one of whom was appointed by Russia and another by WADA. “In my experience, arbitrators often forget that they are arbitrators and pretend they are lawyers. ”
On the other hand, on reading the 186-page document, Mr. Pound sees a total validation of the investigative work of WADA, initiated in 2016 by his compatriot Richard McLaren, in the wake of the scandal of the Sochi Olympics and the manipulations that followed. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency was found to be non-compliant.
If you look closely, the panel, which included an arbitrator chosen by Russia, identifies Vladimir Putin by name as the person responsible for appointing the chief investigator who was involved in the tampering. [des données de laboratoire]. I think this is a first. And this is probably one of the reasons why the official judgment was not disclosed!
“The problem is not resolved”
Officially retired from WADA since December 31, the 78-year-old has lost neither his verve nor his faculty of indignation. This “retirement”, he did not choose it. After three terms as first president from 1999 to 2007, he has just made three more on the Foundation Board, the maximum authorized.
These two decades of working to hunt down cheaters were highlighted by a press release from WADA. The text was accompanied by a shower of tributes, from the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach to the former mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre, from the Dre Christiane Ayotte to Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau.
“It was very sweet and, as far as I know, spontaneous. It’s good to see that people think you were doing your best in this situation. ”
Mr. Pound is more used to receiving arrows from those he slays, such as Lance Armstrong who once called him to advise him to shut up. Suspended for life, the former American cyclist lost his seven Tour de France titles before confessing in 2013.
“I think he was very lucky and had political influence to avoid criminal charges. At that time, he was on top of the world. No one in the United States wanted to see him criminally charged. ”
Richard Pound believes that sport has become healthier since WADA’s founding in 1999.
“But the problem is not resolved. One of WADA’s contributions was to point out that there was a lot of cheating in high performance sport. It was never recognized by sports federations or anyone. Now everyone knows there are a lot of them and they are happy that an independent organization is trying to deal with it. It’s an improvement, but there is still work to be done. ”
Russia is not the only government that supports systemic doping, he adds. “He’s the one we were able to catch and punish. ”
“I was hoping Johnson’s treatment would send a message…”
In his eyes, the denial and willful blindness of international federations has allowed the proliferation of cheating. “When doping started sport missed the first opportunity to really tackle it. ”
Canada was one of the first countries to ask the International Athletics Federation to put in place a detection system in the 1980s, Pound said. In vain.
“That led Charlie Francis, who was Ben Johnson’s coach, to say that if the real rulebook isn’t the one written on paper, then they’re saying to us, ‘Do whatever you want.’ He added: “My sprinter will not start a meter behind the Russians. So I will do what they do. ” He got so good that he was known as Charlie the Chemist! ”
Mr. Pound also places the beginning of his interest in the fight against doping at the Seoul Games in 1988, when he was Vice-President of the IOC. Three days before the Johnson scandal, he had suggested to its president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, to ban weightlifting, the source of the majority of positive tests.
More than 30 years later, weightlifting is still at the Olympics, but the sport is threatened with extinction due to doping and also the embezzlement of its highest leader, the Hungarian Tamas Ajan, forced to resign the year last after a reign dating back to… 1976.
“It was corrupt from start to finish. We were too lax towards them, even today. The real solution is to remove them from the program until they have cleaned up to our satisfaction. This is the only way to achieve institutional behavior change. ”
He puts boxing and the collusion of judges in the same basket. Honest athletes? He suggests that they put pressure on their national federation “to vote for the right people at the international level”.
“Screening is like Loto-Québec …”
Looking back, Mr Pound believes the Johnson case didn’t have the desired effect because it took place outside of Europe. “The Olympic Movement is very Eurocentric, as you know. It was only in Korea, on the edge of the earth, nobody really cared. ”
It was only 10 years later and with the scandal of the Festina team at the Tour de France that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) understood the true extent of the problem and its dangers, he believes.
Quickly, President Juan Antonio Samaranch asked Pound to organize a world conference on doping, which will take place in Lausanne in early 1999 and will bring together government, sports, events, medical and other authorities. WADA was created before the end of the year and moved its offices to Montreal two years later.
The adoption of a World Anti-Doping Code, under the umbrella of UNESCO, was one of the agency’s first great successes in 2005. The classic detection system has, however, shown its limits over time.
Ultimately, screening is about being in the right place at the right time and finding an athlete who is in the middle of a doping program. It’s like Loto-Québec. The odds of winning are not high. What has really been a game changer is the ability to investigate and rely on whistleblowers.
The ability to go back 10 years to test frozen samples with more sophisticated tools is also a powerful deterrent, according to Pound.
“It’s almost more devastating to lose your medal 10 years later, when you’re married, have kids, and live in the community. Finally, you are revealed as a con artist. If it happens the day after your ordeal, it’s a shame, you got caught, but it’s behind you from there. ”
For lack of real will on the part of the various parties, in particular the international federations, WADA took much longer to demonstrate its effectiveness than its ex-president would have liked.
The power to conduct its own investigations, propose sanctions and refer directly to the CAS in the event of a challenge, added to the Code in 2015, has been a huge step forward.
Pound led a first independent commission on Russian athletics, followed by Professor McLaren’s almost surreal inquiry into Sochi. Secret agents, supported by the state, had hidden in the laboratory to steal the vials of urine in the middle of the night and to tamper with them.
“Far from being sufficient”
Since 2018, WADA’s overall budget has increased significantly to reach US $ 43 million this year (nearly CAN 55 million).
“It’s better than 20 million, but our partners want us to do more and more. They are not ready to pay. It has always been a problem. When I was president at the beginning, I remember saying that our directors did not have the right approach. In these circumstances, good financial management is not to decrease the budget, but to increase it. They couldn’t understand this! When you think about it, $ 40 million to cover, say, 40 sports and 206 countries, it’s like $ 50,000 a year for each country. It is far from sufficient. ”
Mr Pound has high hopes for the new president of WADA, Witold Banka, in office since 1er January 2020. Ex-400-meter runner, the 36-year-old Pole is a former Minister of Sports and Tourism.
“He’s young and ambitious. He has personal experience in high performance athletics. He wants to leave his mark. I have always secretly believed that to be most effective WADA had to be led by a representative of the sports movement. He may be an exception. Everything he has done so far indicates that he understands the issues and the need to involve governments more. ”
The new retiree will never be far to support him. In fact, the day after the interview, WADA and CAS published the 186 pages of the reasoned sentence on Russia.
To read Thursday:
“We might have to sort it out. The pandemic could prevent some countries from participating in the Tokyo Olympics, thinks Richard Pound.