Battered by criticism of soft self-policing, the U.S. Olympic Committee is on the verge of passing a new anti-doping program that would more than double funding as well as transfer drug research, testing and enforcement responsibilities to a newly created independent agency.
The Executive Committee today approved the plan, which the full Board of Directors is expected to pass Saturday.
"We can have some individual scandals, but if we ever got to the point where the world thought that every athlete participating in the Games is doping, the Games would go away in a hurry," USOC Executive Director Dick Schultz said. "The athletes are the ones who want strong doping regulations. The theory that all athletes are doping is just not accurate, so it's the athletes who have pushed for tougher penalties. I think the fact that we're externalizing our program is going to give us a lot more credibility."
More than $24 million of funding over the next four years was already part of the proposal for the new external agency--which has yet to be given a name--and today the committee suggested adding another $1.5 million to provide start-up costs.
By funding the agency and providing some of its initial board members, the USOC will remain involved in the anti-doping program, but the major separation will come by no longer allowing the national governing bodies of each sport to test and police their own athletes.
Instead, it would be the new agency that would be responsible for the collection of test samples, handling, processing, transportation, lab results, notification, sanctions and the appeals process. It also would be responsible for research and the creation of new tests, which are sorely needed to combat the use of testosterone steroids and human growth hormone injections.
Athletes will be tested both during competitions and at other random points throughout the year.
"The most important testing for me is the no-advance-notice testing," said board member Frank Marshall, who helped draft the proposal to create an outside agency. "The people who know how to cheat know how to mask it at the Games. It's when someone knocks on your door at 6 o'clock at night and says [urinate] in a bottle--well, if you don't have that, you have no program."
There was some dissension at the meeting regarding how the USOC would identify athletes to be tested beyond those associated with its national governing bodies. Athlete Advisory Council representative Jonathan Fish stressed that NBA or NHL players who participate in the Games must also fall under the new guidelines, as must athletes in NCAA programs. The committee recognized the difficulty in negotiating testing of professional athletes, but Marshall said at the end of the day that "there will be no exceptions. If you want to be on the Olympic team, you will be subject to our testing."
In other business, the committee reviewed the proposals of the U.S. bid cities for the 2007 Pan American Games. The board will choose either Raleigh-Durham, N.C., or San Antonio in a vote on Saturday.
The committee also discussed and approved the restructuring of its top-level management, which has been recommended by an outside consulting group. The USOC president's position held by Bill Hybl, who is a volunteer, will be changed to a chairman of the board position, while the executive director slot, which is a paid position, will be changed into a CEO job.
Schultz has already said he is not interested in the CEO position, so a search will begin once the plan is approved by the full board on Saturday. Hybl has not said whether he wants the chairman's job; his term doesn't end until next year.
"We've had this huge growth in the USOC in the last 10 years," Schultz said. "We're a $140 million a year company, even though we're tax exempt. What [the consultants] are recommending is that we move from the traditional volunteer tax exempt organization format to more of a corporate culture."