WADA has made an impact on PEDs in sports

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John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency,

John Fahey, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, speaks during a WADA symposium in Lausanne, Switzerland earlier this year. Photo Credit: AP

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John Jeansonne Newsday columnist John Jeansonne.

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since 1970 and has covered 11 Olympic Games and

Some athletes have cheated, are cheating and will continue to cheat by using illegal performance enhancers. But, as the World Anti-Doping Agency marked the 10th anniversary of its creation on Tuesday, there was no getting around the fact that WADA's decade of existence has dramatically changed the landscape of illicit drug use in sports.

Primarily, WADA, through its international agreements with government authorities and its independence from sports bodies, has signaled a willingness to take doping seriously. Its expansive reach - though it still has not brought major professional U.S. sports leagues into its tent, specifically in terms of harsher suspensions - and its visibility have forced the sporting public to acknowledge the depth of a problem widely ignored for decades.

"There is no question," said Dr. Gary Wadler, the Manhasset-based expert on drugs in sports who chairs the WADA committee that identifies banned substances, "that there has been a sea change in the whole culture of doping. WADA institutionalized our approach to dealing with anti-doping, both nationally and internationally, both in amateur and professional sports, and brought to bear an incredible degree of science on a unique problem in a way never before done."

On Nov. 10, 1999, WADA was created in Lausanne, Switzerland, the result of an Internatinal Olympic Committee conference triggered by a massive doping scandal during the 1998 Tour de France. Until then, though the IOC officially had been opposing performance-enhancing drug use for 30 years, policing was on a piecemeal basis and essentially left to national sports bodies. Steroid use had been stirring whispers for years, but among much winking and nodding, never produced significant public attention or outrage.

As Major League Baseball executives would insist until - and even after - the 2003 BALCO scandal erupted, IOC members mostly had been telling themselves that they didn't have a drug problem - only the occasional bad apple, such as disgraced 1988 Olympic sprint champion Ben Johnson or a handful of virtually anonymous Bulgarian weightlifters.

By forming WADA, global sports officials at last were admitting their need of a transparent, independent watchdog to de-politicize testing and to track down drug cheats where they lived - with out-of-competition screening. In WADA's current Play True magazine, focusing on the organization's first 10 years, veteran IOC member Dick Pound of Canada, who served as WADA's first president, said WADA's two major achievements were the 2003 adoption of the WADA "Code" and "the publicity given to the problem....and the need for everyone connected with sports to acknowledge the extent of the problem."

The Code is a core document harmonizing policies and penalties within sport organizations and among public authorities in the areas of testing, laboratories, Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), a list of prohibited substances and athletes' privacy rights. To Wadler, "the one piece that's missing" in the current stage of the fight is convincing the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball to sign onto the Code.

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Not surprisingly, Victor Conte, the man who founded BALCO and served jail time for providing performance enhancers to elite athletes in several sports, noted WADA's 10th anniversary by telling Reuters this week that cheating remains rife in sports and will continue. "It's a cat-and-mouse game and maybe I am the self-proclaimed greatest mouse who ever lived," Conte said.

But the cat - WADA and, by extention, a more educated public, including Congress - appears to have gotten more curious. And, beyond the bombshell headlines that cornered baseball into finally instituting a testing-and-penalty procedure in 2004, "the transparency of the whole issue," Wadler argued, "has filtered its way down, all the way to youth sports."

What barely was mentioned 10 years ago keeps seeping into the sports pages, from Alex Rodriguez' admission of steroid use, to Roger Clemens' vehement denials of any such behavior during a Congressional hearing, to Floyd Landis' loss of his 2006 Tour de France title. And, while many bloviators in the sports world have been insisting that the public already is tired of hearing such reports, current WADA president John Fahey contended, in a WADA statement:

"I am puzzled to hear a few commentators succumbing to 'doping fatigue' as a result of the proliferation of scandals, and fatally accepting doping or going even further by calling for liberalization. Doping is not a fatality. Simply ask the athletes who want a level playing field. They are the ones who will insist that doping should not be trivialized. They are the ones who will tell you of their hate of the prospect of seeing the results of their work diminished by competitors using artificial enhancement. They are the focal point of our work."

And the rest of us, meanwhile, are learning a lot.

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