Doping watchdog taking cautious approach on cycling amnesty

Posted Sept. 13, 2012, at 8:03 p.m.

LONDON — The World Anti-Doping Agency would consider an amnesty for riders who confess to drug offenses even though the proposal by cycling’s ruling body would take the sports world into “uncharted territory.”

WADA director general David Howman told The Associated Press on Thursday he’ll wait to see more details of the amnesty suggestion put forward last week by UCI President Pat McQuaid in the wake of doping cases involving Lance Armstrong and other riders.

“You can talk a lot, but you’ve got to wait to see the decision, and see what might happen then,” Howman said. “We would have to be potentially involved in any of those sorts of things. Let’s wait until such time that it moves from words into action.”

WADA’s global anti-doping code has no clause for any sort of amnesty, but Howman wouldn’t rule anything out.

“You’re entering into uncharted territory, but we wouldn’t have found the world if we didn’t bother going into uncharted territory,” he said in a telephone interview from Montreal. “In general, I don’t have any qualms about looking at anything. That’s what we ought to be doing.”

In an interview with the AP last Friday, McQuaid said he will propose an amnesty at UCI’s management committee meeting on Sept. 19-20 in a move to help clean up cycling after an era tarnished by doping. The details are still being discussed.

WADA’s involvement and approval would be crucial to the plan.

“I’m sure they will be engaging us,” Howman said.

He pointed to the challenges involved in any amnesty.

“Once you do it, you’ve got to remember the ‘W’ (in WADA) stands for world, and there are lot more sports around than cycling,” Howman said. “You’ve got to be fair and harmonious in all the things you do. Let’s just see what the concept is without going any further.”

Like the UCI, WADA is still waiting to receive the evidence that led the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to conclude that Armstrong used banned substances. The USADA has erased Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life from Olympic sports.

Armstrong has long denied doping but chose last month not to fight drug charges by USADA, which wiped out 14 years of his results. USADA believes Armstrong used banned substances as far back as 1996, including the blood booster EPO, steroids and blood transfusions.

The UCI is waiting for USADA’s evidence before officially endorsing the decision to remove Armstrong’s Tour titles from the record books. Howman said WADA also wants to see the file, which he expects will arrive in the next week or two.

“Once that comes to hand, UCI have a right of appeal and we have a right of appeal after theirs expires,” he said. “There is more water to go under the bridge before we can talk openly. We’ve got to just be patient and be quiet until the decision comes to hand.”

While McQuaid has questioned USADA’s handling of the case, Howman said, “We’ve got no problem with the process they have followed.”

Howman also differed with McQuaid on Tyler Hamilton, the former U.S. cyclist and teammate of Armstrong who has published a book detailing the years he spent lying about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Hamilton was a witness for USADA in the case against Armstrong.

McQuaid contends Hamilton’s evidence is tainted and questions whether he can be trusted, but Howman said the book is “compulsory reading” for the anti-doping movement.

“It’s very detailed, something we will study closely in terms of how a sophisticated cheater is continuing to avoid detection,” he said. “All these things are helpful in terms of understanding what goes through the minds of those who take shortcuts.”

On a separate issue, Howman said WADA would examine the one-year ban imposed by Belarus authorities on Nadezhda Ostapchuk, who was stripped of the gold medal in the women’s shot put at the London Olympics after testing positive for steroids.

Belarus doping officials said she received a reduced ban — rather than the standard two-year suspension — because her coach laced her food with the steroid without her knowledge. The coach, Alexander Yefimov, received a four-year ban.

WADA can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if it feels Ostapchuk’s ban is too light.

Howman also noted WADA is moving closer to doubling the standard ban for serious offenses from two to four years.

The tougher sanctions are being considered for the next version of the WADA code, which will come up for approval in November 2013. The current code allows for four-year bans in “aggravated cases,” but Howman said there are proposals to change the wording to “serious” cases, which would cover the use of steroids and EPO.

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