Saying the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency risked a "big credibility loss" if it took no action against track superstar Marion Jones given the media speculation surrounding its investigation, World Anti-Doping Agency Chairman Dick Pound yesterday suggested the U.S. agency consider bringing formal charges against her and letting an arbitration panel decide whether she had committed a drug violation.

Pound, who acknowledged his agency had oversight over USADA but said he did not want to interfere in the case, also said the scrutiny on Jones threatened to become a "Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan story" -- referring to the media frenzy over Harding's role in an attack on Kerrigan before the 1994 Winter Games -- that could detract from the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

"USADA is a little bit between a rock and a hard place at this point because there has been so much news and speculation about meetings and so on," Pound said. If they do nothing, "they risk a big credibility loss. . . ."

"It's almost better for them to proceed. It's almost better for an independent arbitrator to look at it and say, 'There's no case here,' than for USADA to resolve not to do anything" because of insufficient evidence.

"It's clearly best for the Games and everyone to have the doubts removed before the Games," he added. "Whatever can be done to cause that to happen, one way or another, is in everyone's best interest."

Pound's comments during a telephone interview highlighted the pressure on both USADA and Jones, a five-time Olympic medal winner, as USADA tries to decide whether it has enough evidence acquired in a federal raid of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) to bring charges against her. Jones, who has repeatedly said she has been drug-free throughout her career, threatened to sue USADA if it attempted to bar her from the Games on the basis of circumstantial evidence.

The agency has already notified four U.S. athletes -- Tim Montgomery, the father of Jones's infant son; Chryste Gaines; Michelle Collins; and Alvin Harrison -- of possible drug charges. None of the athletes has been formally charged.

Joseph Burton, Jones's attorney, said in a statement that Pound's remarks made it clear Jones was being treated unfairly. In his statement, Burton made reference to USADA's decision to abandon the strict "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard in prosecuting track and field cases in favor of a lesser standard of "comfortable satisfaction . . . of the hearing body" based on recent changes in the WADA Code, which USADA maintains it is obligated to abide by.

"These statements from the Olympic entity that oversees USADA makes it clear for the world to see that this is not a fair process but a kangaroo court at work," Burton said. "In the last 24 hours we have seen USADA change its standard from a 'beyond a reasonable doubt' to a 'comfortable satisfaction with the facts standard' -- standard you would use in determining what kind of sneakers you would wear, not whether you are going to take away someone's livelihood, reputation and dreams -- and now we are seeing USADA's overseer directing the agency to take action in the absence of a positive test or any real facts. This is outrageous, this is illegal, this is wrong and this is un-American."

USADA Legal Affairs Director Travis T. Tygart declined to respond to Pound's or Burton's comments but said USADA would reach decisions about whether to initiate cases based only on the quality of the evidence available. He said the arbitrators ultimately decided what weight will be given to the evidence, what burden of proof applied, and whether an anti-doping rules violation had occurred, and that the entire process was one athletes had signed off on. He also said the agency was aware of approaching competitions but would not act in haste.

"Any suggestion that USADA should rush its review process and initiate proceedings just to meet a competition deadline is shortsighted and is not in the best interest of clean athletes," Tygart said.During the interview, Pound also called into question some of the men with whom Jones has associated, echoing comments made about 10 days ago in a London newspaper by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge.

Jones, who lives with Montgomery, was formerly married to C.J. Hunter, who tested positive for steroids in 2000. In the winter of 2002-03, Jones and Montgomery trained with Charlie Francis, the former coach of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who tested positive for steroids at the 1988 Summer Olympics.

"She has been surrounded either by known drug users in the case of C.J. or suspected and, in fact, even accused in the case of Tim, and she was seeking out the advice and coaching of Charlie Francis," Pound said. "There's an awful lot of history there. You've got to be very careful leaping to guilt by association, but there's an awful lot of smoke there."

Jones's lawyers called Pound's comments a "scurrilous, unfair attack" and questioned his credibility, pointing out that as the head of WADA and in his former role as an IOC vice president, Pound has been highly critical of the United States, USA Track & Field and some U.S. athletes since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

"He is saying something that is outrageous," Rich Nichols, one of Jones's lawyers, said in a statement. "He has a long record of saying things that are anti-American -- specifically about American athletics."

Sprinter Tim Montgomery, father of Marion Jones's infant son, was one of four U.S. athletes notified of possible drug charges.WADA Chairman Dick Pound: "It's clearly best for the Games and everyone to have the doubts removed before the Games."