Doping Experts Say Suggested Solutions Still May Fall Short
Friday, December 14, 2007
NEW YORK, Dec. 13 -- The report on performance-enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball released Thursday outlined a general road map for improving baseball's drug testing system, but prescribed no timetable and few specific directives. Many significant details, ultimately, were left to be hashed over by baseball's ownership and players' union, the two entities blamed in the report for responding slowly and ineffectively to the game's steroid crisis from the outset.
Anti-doping experts questioned whether the report's release should be considered a landmark event in baseball's fight against steroids and other drugs. Some noted that even if all of the recommendations were adopted, baseball's program still could fall short of international standards, and several expressed doubt that meaningful changes would occur -- particularly given the public's and officials' preoccupation with the names of the dozens of players implicated in the report.
Baseball's owners and union have twice reopened the collective bargaining agreement since 2004 to strengthen the league's drug testing program in response to criticism, but experts say the system remains far from meeting the international norms advanced by the World Anti-Doping Agency, a quasi-governmental organization that oversees international anti-doping efforts and promotes uniform rules and penalties for doping violations.
Nearly every major sports federation in the world outside of the four U.S. professional sports leagues has signed on to WADA's anti-doping code.
"Given the history . . . any reasonable person would be skeptical," said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "But all of us who have the best interests of our sports at heart hope immediate steps are taken."
Robert Weiner, a spokesman for former White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey who has remained outspoken on anti-doping matters, called baseball's existing anti-drug policy "a sham" and added that it "will remain weak under Mitchell's proposals."
At a news conference Thursday shortly after Mitchell released his report, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said he embraced the document's recommendations. He pledged that he would take action immediately on all issues not requiring the approval of the players' association, but offered few details of his plans. Selig said only that baseball immediately would eliminate the 24-hour advance notice in its current testing program, which critics have said allows players time to expunge drugs from their system.
"Those recommendations I can implement independently, I will do so immediately," Selig said. On matters requiring collective bargaining, "I will be reaching out to [players' union executive director] Don Fehr and the players' association in the immediate future."
Fehr said during a later news conference that the union would be receptive to the recommendations but declined to comment further until he had read the report.
"I don't think there is any suggestion that the program we have in place now is not working appropriately and effectively," Fehr said.
Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, disputed any such assessment.
The report, Pound said, "should explode this public-relations myth -- despite all the evidence to the contrary -- that there is no problem in baseball, that they've got it licked and have a robust program. It's just nonsense."