In a move designed to restore credibility to the U.S. Olympic Committee's anti-doping efforts, USOC leadership has thrown its support behind a proposal that would abolish the USOC's current system of drug testing, turning all testing over to an independent agency and doubling the funding for anti-doping, USOC President Bill Hybl said yesterday.
The proposal would increase the USOC's spending on anti-doping from $3 million to $6 million annually -- which would include an 800 percent increase in funding for drug-testing research to $2 million -- and it would increase the number of unannounced drug tests of athletes from fewer than 1,000 annually to 3,500 to 4,000 per year.
A non-profit agency run by a nine-member board of directors would oversee and execute all Olympic-related anti-doping procedures in the United States, providing a drastic change to the current and controversial system whereby the USOC and national governing bodies of different sports test and prosecute the very athletes they support.
It would also strive to prevent the lengthy and expensive legal proceedings that currently ac company many positive drug test results by calling upon a group of outside scientific experts to act as a grand jury, examining all suspected positive tests to ensure there is probable cause to declare them positive. Furthermore, the plan calls for the participation of the highly regarded Court of Arbitration in Sport -- an independent arbitration board set up by the International Olympic Committee -- to help handle appeals.
The USOC proposal addresses some of the concerns raised by critics of the International Olympic Committee's plan -- which is still under development -- for its own independent anti-doping agency. The IOC plan would include at least one IOC member and would not make major changes to current drug-testing arrangements.
"I think they made a giant leap," said USA Track and Field CEO Craig Masback. "They had the benefit of seeing the shortcomings in the IOC program. They've taken a dramatic step and a much-needed one that will reaffirm the leadership of the Olympic movement in the drug-testing field."
A USOC-appointed task force hammered out the proposal -- which has been in the works for about a year -- last weekend in Denver and it will be presented for approval to the USOC's board of directors during meetings in Colorado Springs Oct. 22-24. USOC public sector member Frank Marshall chaired the task force and USOC anti-doping director Baaron Pittenger acted as the vice chair.
Should the proposal be approved next month, Hybl said he expected that the board of directors could be in place by March 1, 2000. Hybl said he hoped the new drug-testing program could be fully operative by May 1, 2000.
The board would include five members of the public sector chosen by the USOC board's six public sector members, two athletes selected by their athletic peers and two representatives selected by the national governing bodies of each sport under the Olympic umbrella.
The plan would increase the USOC's commitment to drug testing from $12.6 million this quadrennium to $24 million during the agency's first four years. It would increase research funding from $250,000 annually to $2 million and funding for drug testing from $1.9 million per year to $2.4 million. The other $1.6 million in annual expenses would go to lab, administrative, legal and other fees.
The new agency would work out its own contractual arrangements with laboratories to handle the testing. Two labs -- one in Los Angeles and one in Indianapolis -- have IOC accreditation in the United States.
"We think now our testing system is very successful and very good, but the fact that we [conduct the tests] lacks credibility internationally," said USOC Executive Director Dick Schultz. "Number one, we wanted to deal with the credibility issue; number two, we wanted to increase our out-of-competition testing; and number three, we wanted to add a very strong research component, which is really the long-term solution to all of this."