Discredited cyclist Lance Armstrong is trying to defend his steroid regimen in a high profile civil fraud case the U.S. government has filed to reclaim its $40 million sponsorship expense – plus punitive damages. Armstrong now claims that the U.S. government wanted the image of appealing champions – and “got exactly what it bargained for.”
That is NOT what FINA, the international aquatic sports federation, wants for its image. On July 26, FINA leadership and its doping control policy leader Dr. Andrew Pipe outlined tough testing policies designed to keep the image of swimming pristine. The foundation of the program is a random testing program operated in parallel with comprehensive testing for new world records and new national records.
The details are not exactly glamorous or inspiring for the individual athletes. Following a random draw, selected swimmers will be escorted by a chaperone to professionally staffed doping control stations. 100% of participants will undergo urine testing, while blood tests will be used for spot checks. As needed, translators and back-up transportation to athlete lodging will be arranged in advance.
The program is not a plus for the careers of athletes who could make better use of their time post-competition signing autographs with fans and reaching out to potential sponsors. FINA is making the sacrifice easier to make with significant prize money. The total cash awards to swimmers at the 2013 World Aquatic Championships will be $3.2 million. All swimmers who rank in the top six of each event will win prize money. Swimmers who win several gold and silver medals can earn over $100,000!
Over the long term, FINA is moving forward with advanced technology. It is testing a program called “Athlete Biological Passport.” This will use statistical analysis to support a clean bill of health that will let healthy athletes minimize the time taken for grueling testing procedures. FINA leadership is also encouraging swimmers to simply avoid the risk of exposure to controlled substances by not using nutritional supplements manufactured in the U.S. The overwhelmingly European management team of FINA has been unapologetically critical of U.S. authorities and the Food and Drug Administration for ineffective screening of supplement contamination with substances banned by international sports federations.
These significant investments in testing to insure high standards were announced on the same day as research challenging the effectiveness of random testing programs. Also on July 26, the University of Adelaide publicized research of worldwide data from positive doping tests in 93 different sports. This research team found that one single, random drug test was likely to catch a drug cheat less than 3 percent of the time. For 100 percent accuracy, every athlete in the world would need to be drug tested up to 50 times a year – at a cost of at least $25,000 per athlete, according to the University of Adelaide in Australia.
This challenging issue for the world of sports may be resolved most effectively by the ultimate outcome of the civil fraud case against Lance Armstrong. The purpose of punitive damages is to set an example and discourage misconduct by others. If Lance Armstrong has to pay an additional $80 million in punitive damages, as the U.S. Postal Service attorneys are demanding, many more aspiring champions will have a very good reason to “Just Say No to Drugs.”