WADA chief cites growing underworld role in sports

FILE - This Sept. 12, 2009, file photo shows United States gold medalist LaShawn Merritt reacting after winning the men's 400-meter event at the IAAF World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece. U.S. and international Olympic officials plan to go to the highest court in sports to determine the status of an anti-doping rule that could prevent American runner LaShawn Merritt from defending his 400-meter title at next year's London Games. The International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee are nearing agreement on jointly asking the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a ruling on one of the key elements of the IOC's anti-doping program, officials with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Thannasis Stavrakis, File)
FILE - This Sept. 12, 2009, file photo shows United States gold medalist LaShawn Merritt reacting after winning the men's 400-meter event at the IAAF World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece. U.S. and international Olympic officials plan to go to the highest court in sports to determine the status of an anti-doping rule that could prevent American runner LaShawn Merritt from defending his 400-meter title at next year's London Games. The International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee are nearing agreement on jointly asking the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a ruling on one of the key elements of the IOC's anti-doping program, officials with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Thannasis Stavrakis, File) (Thannasis Stavrakis - AP)
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By STEPHEN WILSON
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 3:32 PM

TWICKENHAM, England -- The criminal underworld controls "a significant proportion" of world sport, including the distribution of doping substances and attempted bribery of drug-testing labs, an anti-doping leader said Wednesday.

World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman said the integrity of sports is under threat because of the "increasing encroachment" of organized crime gangs involved in steroid trafficking, match-fixing, money-laundering and other corruption.

"They make more money from this than from trafficking in heroin," Howman said at the World Sports Law Report's anti-doping conference outside London. "We get it in the anti-doping world. Doping control officers have been bribed or have been attempted to be bribed. There have been examples internationally of labs being subject to brown envelopes (bribes)."

Howman also raised the possibility of offering financial rewards to national anti-doping bodies to catch dopers, suggesting that some agencies are covering up positive tests to protect their own athletes. Some testers, he said, also are "too scared" to report positive cases for fear of legal challenges.

Howman said law-enforcement agencies, including Interpol, are aware of the widening involvement of mafia-style groups in doping and sports.

"My inside information has it that the underworld is now controlling a significant proportion of world sport," he said. "It need not be at this (elite) level. It can be at much lower levels for them to get the return they are seeking.

"It doesn't have to be Premier League, it can be fourth division."

Howman said criminals are motivated by "huge" financial incentives and little chance of getting caught. The gangs procure raw doping materials from China, deliver them to "kitchen labs" across the world and distribute them to those looking for performance-enhancing benefits.

"The criminal underworld is challenging the integrity of sport," Howman said. "It's the same people who distribute illegal substances."

Howman suggested an international body should be set up to deal with gangs using the betting industry - legal as well as illegal - to launder money and corrupt sports.

"It's the same jokers," he said in a separate interview. "It's not anybody new. If you are going to set up a body, it has to deal with all the issues, not just illegal betting."

Howman said it was worth exploring the idea of offering financial incentives to members of national drug-testing bodies.


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