Playing fair at the Olympics

Playing fair at the Olympics McGill University

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McGill Reporter
September 9, 2004 - Volume 37 Number 01
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 37: 2004-2005 > September 9, 2004 > Playing fair at the Olympics

Playing fair at the Olympics

People cheat; it's a fact of life; it's a fact of the Olympic Games. Some people will do anything to get ahead, even if it's dangerous to their health. "It's the same in sports as in society," says Richard Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and McGill chancellor. "There will always be someone who thinks that the rules don't apply to them — it happens in politics, governments, religions and sport. The only difference is, unlike society, sport is voluntary. You can choose to play or not to play, but if you play, you have to play by the rules.

"WADA is an interesting organization, a hybrid organization," says Pound. "It is made up of governments on the one hand and individuals — athletes, coaches, IOC members — on the other hand." His role as chairman is to coordinate all the moving parts, from education and outreach to testing and research. WADA is currently planning an international convention on doping.

The rules are what WADA has established internationally with its Anti-Doping Code, the latest version of which has been signed by 152 countries. Now WADA aims to harmonize the code with the laws of individual countries so that each country's laws match the code, and WADA has set up an international monitoring program to oversee its implementation.

The real teeth in the Anti-Doping Code are found in the provision for unannounced, out-of-competition drug testing. This requires athletes to give "whereabouts information" on a continuous basis, making them responsible for their actions at all times. Pound stresses the importance of this kind of unannounced testing because most athletes who take steroids do so during practice and training periods, and could test negative by the time they compete.

Diver Christopher Kalec, who is studying commerce at McGill and was in Athens for his second Olympics, scored a personal best at the international competition, almost making the finals.

"When someone gets caught, we don't say, 'Aw, too bad for the athlete,' we say, 'Good for the system,'" he says. "We athletes are all for cleaning out the Olympics. We support WADA wholeheartedly — they are taking big steps to keep athletes' [doping] in check."

This year, WADA sent independent observers to the Olympics to monitor the anti-doping procedures and to draft a report at the end of the Games. They also began an outreach and education program for athletes in the Olympic village, some of whom had never been educated about doping. "Unfortunately, sometimes it is the coach who says, 'Take these vitamins,' and the athlete isn't aware of what they are taking," says Pound.

"These programs are generally welcomed by athletes who play fair," says Pound. "They're delighted because it is they who are victimized by the cheaters." And are there people who don't get caught, who slip by under the radar? "I always operate with the assumption that there are," says Pound. "But it's our job to catch them, as well as to educate them that what they're doing is unfair and potentially dangerous."

This year, Canada was a leader in anti-doping. "We had a real wake-up call in 1988 with Ben Johnson," states Pound. Since then, Canada's sports record has been marred by very few drug scandals.

Pound, a former Olympic swimmer, is also a prominent member of the IOC. He wears yet another Olympic hat as chairman of the Olympic Games Study Commission, whose role is to analyze the preparation and organization of the Games, with the goal of making them less complex and less costly for host countries. Often, a host city will find itself stuck with maintaining a permanent facility that never reaches capacity after the Olympics. A temporary facility would cost one half to two-thirds as much as a permanent one, and there would be no maintenance costs. Pound claims, "Thinking about what will happen to the facilities after the Games can save a country anywhere from $4 million to $2 billion." Because the commission is new, Greece did not have time to implement most of its proposals, but Turin host of the 2006 winter olympics will implement some of them, and by 2012, the commission hopes to have all of its proposals included in host countries' preparations.

Pound was lucky enough to attend the Games this year, surrounded by the question that everyone was asking: will Athens be ready in time? "In our culture," he says, "we would be nervous wrecks if it wasn't finished way in advance. But the Mediterranean mentality is, if it's finished by 11:59:59, that's plenty of time." Pound tells a story that one of the organizers walked up to a workman bolting chairs into the concrete steps of the stadium and asked, "Will it be ready by August 13?" And the workman said, "What's August 13?" "The Olympics!" replied the organizer. "What time does it start?" asked the workman. "Eight o'clock." "Oh, yes, it will be ready," the workman assured him, and went back to work.

And was it ready? "It was, and the Olympics were wonderful," says Pound.

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