David Howman, director general of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) says that the involvement of organised crime syndicates in doping, match-fixing and other forms of corruption has become an issue that is “getting too big for sport to handle,” and has called for a transnational “sports integrity unit” to be set up in response to a situation he believes is worsening.
Howman insisted that the links between organised crime and doping identified in a hard-hitting report from the Australian Crime Commission published earlier this month were not unique to that country, adding that sports in the UK could not afford to be complacent.
“If you think the mafia and underworld aren't involved in this country in sport, you're in fairyland," insisted Howman, who believes it is “inevitable” that other sports such as athletics will follow cycling in having widespread levels of doping exposed.
Nor is it just doping that is causing concern; earlier this month, Europol revealed that it had identified more than 380 football matches across the continent in which it believed results had been rigged on behalf of Far Eastern and Russian criminals with the collusion of players and match officials.
Howman says a "sports integrity unit," including WADA and working alongisde national and international law enforcement agencies, should be set up to deal with the threat.
His comments were reported yesterday in The Guardian, which devoted the first five pages of its Sport section to the issue of doping and other forms of corruption in sport, painting a bleak picture of the ability of governing bodies and WADA to combat the problem.
While it is often cycling that hits the headlines when it comes to doping – there have, of course, been very public scandals in recent years particularly in the United States related to athletics and baseball, among other sports – recent weeks have seen the media widen its focus.
Partly that is in response to the ongoing Operacion Puerto trial in Madrid, with Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of the investigation, maintaining that cyclists represented only three in ten of his clients, who included footballers, tennis players and track and field athletes, among others.
However, it also reflects a growing acknowledgement in the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal that for all cycling’s problems, including the stand-off between the UCI and WADA, most other sports lag behind when it comes to the nature and scale of anti-doping tests currently performed on their athletes.
Howman maintained that some governing bodies were doing far less than they could to catch the drugs cheats, including failing to test for substances such as EPO, for which there were just 1,505 tests in all sports in 2011, 48 of those turning out to be positive.
"Where's the commitment here?” he asked. “We spend all the money and put everything in place. What we've discovered in the last number of years is that unless we make something mandatory, people won't do it. If it's discretionary, they think they don't have to bother.”
He also said that sporting bodies were failing to capitalise on investment made in developing new tests, underscoring the point with the observation that despite a test being formulated for human growth hormone (HGH), which was previously undetectable, only one in four of 120,000 blood samples obtained from athletes were actually tested for it – and most of those in minor league baseball.
Athletics, he claimed, is at risk of following cycling as a sport in which widespread use of performance enhancing drugs will be uncovered. In 2011, from 23,799 samples taken from track and field athletes, 232 – or 0.98 per cent – resulted in an adverse analytical finding.
However, the Guardian cites a study carried out after that year’s world athletic championships in Daegu, South Korea, which found evidence of blood doping in 14 per cent of the samples collected there – one in seven.
"That means that it's more than what people think, that's all you can say,” commented Howman. “I would put athletics in that bunch – as a potential new UCI. That's an area where we've got to be very attentive. The IAAF, to be fair, are aware of it. They've introduced a [biological] passport and we hope they'll continue with it."
Earlier this week, WADA president John Fahey revealed that the agency had been "concerned for some time" about athletes from Kenya, saying: "The cloud is hanging over their head – the only way to clear it is to properly investigate it. Their reluctance was of concern to us."
On Friday, Moses Kiptanui, speaking to the BBC, accepted that doping was a problem in his country, but it was wrong to single out Kenya for scrutiny.
"The information shows that there are a good number of athletes out there who are using drugs," maintained the three-time world champion in the 3,000 metre steeplechase. "All over the world there is corruption in sport. It is not only a matter in Kenya."
The money that has poured into a range of sports in recent years makes them attractive to criminals involved in both supplying banned drugs and match-fixing, he added.
"Those things are huge to have to deal with if you're running a small anti-doping programme. We see it all. I've been saying these things for five or six years and all of a sudden people are saying: 'Shit, he was right.'"
Andy Parkinson, chief executive of UK Anti-Doping, agreed that many countries and sports underestimate the scale of the problem facing them.
"The real challenge is that even if there are isolated sports or nations that are starting to understand the scale of the problem, the vast majority of sports and nations haven't," he reflected.
He believes that WADA should be given greater powers to help it fight cases where it suspects wrongdoing. "If it sees a problem part of the world or a problem sport, it should have the ability to go in and make an assessment and give it a clean bill of health or otherwise.
“I want to know where my athletes should be cautious about going and where they shouldn't," he added.
WADA’s president, John Fahey, likewise hit out at what he says is widespread complacency when it comes to tackling doping and other problems facing sport.
“Perhaps there is too much conservatism, too much concern for brand and reputation, and not enough zeal for the task," he said.
"There is a long-held belief that sport embodies the values of fair play and honesty that we want our children exposed to," he went on.
"Perhaps we need to reassess that belief; maybe we should consider whether sport may, in fact, be a corrupting influence, especially the closer an athlete gets to elite level."
Fahey, who is now in his final year as WADA president, was making his comments at a time when the agency is coming under scrutiny as a result of its continuing row with the UCI, with neither party seemingly able to meet the other halfway and move forward with establishing a truth and reconcilation process within cycling.
The UCI, which initially wanted such a process to cover other sports, said it would be willing to work with WADA to set it up, but the agency insists it must be dealt with by the independent commission set up by the UCI late last year to investigate its own role in the Lance Armstrong affair, but which the governing body disbanded earlier this month.
As we reported earlier today, the UCI is not the only governing body that has a strained relationship with WADA at the moment, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) calling a conference to discuss WADA's role - the IOC currently provides half its funding - with the agency also having had arguments with FIFA and the International Tennis Federation.
This week has also seen Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, argue the controversial view that performance enhancing drugs in sports should be legalised so as to take away the incentive for organised criminals to become involved in doping.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.