MARINA DEL REY, Calif. (BRAIN) — U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Travis Tygart kicked off the Triathlon Business International conference with an admission: “I was asked to talk about the Lance Armstrong case, but it’s a case we’re ready to stop talking about.”
But the case, for which Tygart, a lawyer and CEO of USADA, received personal death threats following the agency’s reasoned decision and consequent lifetime ban on Armstrong, offers valuable lessons, he said. Particularly, it highlights the win-at-all-costs culture that exists in almost every aspect of society.
“It’s this culture that not only permeates sports but that every other institution in this country and around the world is facing,” Tygart said. And cycling isn’t alone. Tygart said doping exists in everything from inline roller skating to youth soccer, and at all age and sport levels.
He called on leaders in the sports world and race organizers to speak up. “The worst you can do is sit on information and not do anything,” he said, adding that USADA works to protect those who provide reliable information to the agency.
Tygart underlined that USADA is not for profit and also not a federal agency. It also has an independent board of directors in an effort to remain objective and unbiased.
“The decision to move forward against a global icon and team that won seven Tours is a difficult decision,” he said. “It would have been far easier if my duty to the sport is to raise revenues and have world titles remain intact. But if that’s my duty as a sports leader, my duty to police myself is impossible.”
Chief among USADA’s mission, aside from promoting fair competition, is to educate athletes, coaches and others to deter doping; identify and sanction athletes engaged in unfair competition; and fund research for new tests and procedures to detect doping substances and techniques.
Tygart said testing is only as good as the science and that it’s getting better, but research is critical. The athlete biologic passport, for example, tests and monitors different variables including hemoglobin and hematocrit levels and helps assess abnormal variations over time, and is proving to be an effective way of detecting doping. But he also pointed to other evidence that is critical including video, photographs, emails and witness testimony.
“Your greatest challenge will be to pick up the phone and call,” he said. “You’ll justify not making the call, but both in our BALCO investigation and Lance Armstrong investigation it was critical. (In the Armstrong investigation) we got a call from a sport executive who received information from a key whistleblower and this sport exec made the right decision and said, ‘This is what I’ve been told.’ ”
Tygart said many of the meetings with individuals to gather information in the Armstrong case, including former pro cyclist Floyd Landis, took place at the same hotel where the triathlon conference is now being held. He said USADA became aware of the breadth and depth of the doping culture in cycling and took action quickly as the Olympic summer games approached in 2012 and the agency had evidence that athletes set to be on the U.S. Olympic cycling team were doping.
“It would have been a shame if those athletes had gone to London and their doping came out. That would have tainted the entire U.S. Olympic team,” he said. “That was one set of urgent facts. Our other goal was to dismantle the system. We’re still heavily pursuing that goal.”
Tygart said brands in particular need to do everything possible to protect their value. For event organizers, this means talking about integrity and value of fair play, embracing a clean culture and providing educational resources.
He said cycling is moving away from doping—citing the election of a new head to the UCI, cycling’s governing body, as evidence of change and progress. “All sport leaders have to take notice. If you go on wrong side of the fight to protect the sport, there will be consequences,” Tygart said. “This anti-doping issue was the No. 1 issue during election. (Former UCI chief Pat McQuaid) ultimately wasn’t re-elected. ... We think that’s a fantastic statement that this sport is finally moving away from performance-enhancing drugs.”
In a panel on drug policies and endurance sports that followed Tygart’s keynote, representatives from the World Triathlon Corporation/Ironman, USA Cycling, USA Triathlon, Anti-Doping Research and the Banned Substances Control Group talked about efforts to detect doping and the need to continue to show leadership in testing and enforcement of anti-doping rules and sanctions.
For triathlon, the issue of doping comes up in particular with use of dietary supplements that could contain banned substances. USA Triathlon CEO Rob Urbach said testing for performance-enhancing drugs is more prevalent in triathlon than people realize and athletes are required to give their whereabouts and given little to no warning of testing.
“For triathlon to stay a sport that is clean, I can’t emphasize how important culture is and those who are clean athletes not to tolerate those who cheat,” said Andrew Messick, CEO of WTC/Ironman. Messick said that triathlon and cycling are dramatically different, with more value placed on fair play in triathlon.
“The culture of triathlon is one where, fundamentally, people believe in fair play,” he said. “That said, there’s no doubt that there needs to be a robust enforcement mechanism.”