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Reflections on Dick Pound
By Staff
Date: 12/6/2004
Reflections on Dick Pound

By Ben Lyon

When we’re in our early twenties, working the university scene, it can be hard to imagine where we will be thirty years down the road; it can also be scary if you have so much you want to use your youth for. Travelling, epic hikes or rides, or even raising a family and not having an aneurism every time you have to chase down the two year old. Even though the exact place we will be or job we will have is by all accounts ambiguous, we do know what we will take there with us. As Alfred Tennyson wrote in Ulysses, “I am part of all that I have met.” This is, in my humble opinion, no less than the truth with a man so many call the most powerful (or one of the most powerful) in sports today, Dick Pound.

Dick was an athlete and in many ways he still is. Though Pound is no longer winning swimming events at the Pan Am or Commonwealth games, or representing Canada in the Olympics, he has brought that experience with him and it has contributed greatly to where he stands today as President of WADA (the World Anti Doping Agency). His hair is fine and grey, his physique shaped now, not from doing lengths, but a combination of airplane food, fine dining and age, his eyes a little tired. But all of this is a deception from the competitive, fighting spirit one may meet when becoming an Olympic athlete. I noticed Pound's fiery spirit when he briefly dipped into his home pool of St. Catharines, Ontario, making a speech to students, like me, at Brock University.

I had three encounters with Pound that day; first the book signing for Inside the Olympics, second, as an invite to a round table Q&A session for a select group of students and faculty, and third as a ticket holder to his scheduled evening lecture. Three different scenarios, three chances to develop a look into who this man is, a leg up when trying to understand ever-increasingly debated policies on sport doping. Remember, I said "understand," not "agree with."

So how has learning a little of his past and meeting him in person shaped the way I feel when sport, doping, and Dick Pound are mentioned? It has to do with that fact that Pound seems to love challenge, competition, winning and obstacles. He started as a world class swimmer, became a tax lawyer in Montreal (where he still holds a practice), was then appointed VP of the International Olympic Committee, and Pound headed up WADA, to fight doping. WADA was created to give credibility to Olympic doping policy after some, shall I say, “troubles” within the IOC ranks. Funded 50% by the IOC funded and 50% by associated governments, WADA is never short of stirring debate.

When I first met Pound at the book signing I immediately felt his sense of challenge. Definitely not the warmest thing in the bookstore, his smiles and jokes seemed budgeted, as if when he ran out, his facial muscles would shut down. What he did have a lot of was the vibes of an athlete on race day. If you have ever stood next to a competitor at the start line you know what I mean; it’s the smell of readiness, focus, tension and seriousness - this is what Pound glowed with. While his personality may have served him as a fierce competitor, lawyer and VP, it hasn’t served him so well in the eyes of athletes and fans, and often overshadows the real issues around sport doping. Part of all he has met is now part of many athletes' very careers, and fans' trust.

I am not pro-Dick Pound, nor am I anti-Dick Pound, since I believe, after speaking with him, that he does have some meaningful goals for sport and doping, but on the flip side I feel he has taken some actions and said some things that may have caused long term difficulties, if not permanent damage. So many times Pound is criticized as being in the business of doping for his own commercial gain and interest, that he really doesn’t care about cleaning up sport, but just establishing his investment in WADA. After the meetings with him, I have some trouble with these accusations; I won’t call them unfounded, nor completely untrue, just differences in perception.

In regards to the Olympics itself, the commercialism may have the better of him, as referring to the Games as not being overly sponsored, and using phrases like “Olympic Brand,” “product,” and “profit” to describe them, does little justice to the humanity of the games. But with WADA, it’s far more personal. WADA is Dick’s event now, he started it, it’s his new competition, and he will never go down without swinging, 110%. Pound is a competitor; he was so in the pool, in the court room and now, with WADA. Fulfilling the desire to win, he races against the dopers, and does so as a frontrunner. Frontrunners, as we know, can often hit the infamous “wall” when the race is long. Steve Prefontaine and Lance Armstrong both learned this - will Pound? Like many frontrunners Pound fears showing weakness, he needs to lead, from beginning to end, and is bitterly disappointed when beaten; something he shared when claiming disbelief in actually losing the race for IOC president.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of athletes don’t cheat, they don’t want cheaters around, and hope doping can be eliminated, something Dick is fighting for. This is cause for respect. But the frontrunner in him may put this ideal at risk. Pound sees WADA as the future drug authority to all national and international sporting federations, an anti-doping dictatorship in which “full compliance will be needed for participation.”

“Doping,” as Pound states, “is not a diplomatic issue; cheating is cheating.” The fight against doping is in the wrong hands, the end goal is admirable - no doping - however, the motive is victory. Doping is, to Pound, a race that he must win. Victory is the establishment and recognition of his authority and rules. What about using diplomacy? Well, that would be giving up the lead at the extreme or showing weakness at the minimum, neither of which Pound is likely to consider. Sad thing is, diplomacy is a selling technique and you can’t force the WADA code, it must be welcomed and wanted to be effective. With a result that needs trust and close political friendships, Pound’s doing an excellent job at making enemies.

Tyler Hamilton gives a name and face to his race to win against doping. Unfortunately for Dick Pound it’s risky to go all out in what seems to be an issue a long way from reaching an agreement. From the moment Hamilton was found “positive,” Pound had a new major event to compete at. Yes, points are awarded for lesser known names getting snagged, but Tyler is a nice trophy in a sport well known for its doping troubles. “He’s guilty,” Pound would say to me, “he tested positive twice; you don’t get different blood in you by mistake.” Seems pretty straightforward, but Hamilton’s fight reminds me of the numerous criminal cases that have created serious problem for a few justice systems. In Canada there have been a couple of recent cases where the DNA, and other blood testing methods, have proven themselves faulty or poorly done, and now, in a reverse of the claims made by WADA about catching athletes years down the road, the accused are getting second trials, the blood tests being proved faulty, all from the police and labs in charge, forcing their own agendas and bias.

Yet Pound still refuses to give up any ground, though, foresight suggests that a failure to recognize potential problems could turn the gun around on him. If WADA does find a fault in the tests, you probably will hear it come out as a press release citing new, “improved” or more “efficient” procedures. The impression I have from my encounters is that the more Pound is challenged, the more he needs to win, that it is not the financial gain that many say he’s after, rather the need to be the champ, and ironically, to have his victory at almost all cost. Total rule across all sports, for cycling (starting with cycling) means “total open unannounced testing,” year round, with all sport federations in compliance with the WADA code.

Beyond the scope of his eerie need and drive to dominate the world of doping, I managed to get a few other impressions of Pound. Interestingly, he does not have the commonly perceived hate for cycling, but just an inability to give good praise or acknowledgement of achievements made by others. He hits cycling hard, throws the baby out with the bath water sometimes, but what it's for is negative motivation, leadership by fear and threat. My impression from this is that Pound is like to wants flex his muscle in hopes cycling will one day hand the controls to WADA in a fit of desperation - he wants to win cycling. But that aside, cycling gets his attention because it knows it has a problem and is actively work at fixing it.

When you’re the loudest, you tend to get a lot of attention, and with cycling it has become A.A. meets N.I.M.B.Y. People try to fix it, but when they see it, they slap a judgment on it and want nothing to do with it. Pound admits baseball and hockey are worse off than cycling, since they are in complete denial that doping is even an issue. Aside from Bond and McGuire (which is more of a player than league issue) baseball rarely talks about it, thus leaving themselves muted and away from public criticism. What about hockey? Well, let’s just say hockey told Pound to call them when he has his own house in order.

As the lecture went, it wasn’t as in depth as I had hoped, thanks to the many requests from the different departments. It turned out to be a whirlwind speech on the history of the IOC, the Olympic influence and a little on doping. Even with the time taken up by a few historical facts, simple questions and self flattery, the true cure for the doping disease cut some light. Doping is a institutionalised problem, it takes part of everybody to truly beat it. To go after doctors and coaches is Pound’s chance at this, and the UCI dropping Phonak works the same way; it makes everyone accountable, and if they catch on they will see that everyone involved must look out for each other as a team, fostering the accountable, community-headed effort to end doping. When I had my question time at the round table I asked Pound if he feels that he is the man at the end, does the path towards doping not start in youth? “Yes,” he answered, “education in the long run is the only solution,” then encouraged the small group and later the entire lecture hall to get involved locally; make sure your local sport programs have a anti-doping aspect for teaching those playing the sport, but also those coaching the sport. Doping, Pound admitted, very briefly of course, is everyone’s fight and WADA will be there to catch those who make it through the social net.

So who is Dick Pound to me? After meeting him, I no longer believe he is in WADA for financial reasons, but his past, all that he has met, is about competition and the need to win. Front running, he needs to always be in charge of the race against doping, always leading, and to give an inch is to lose. This unfortunately does sport and WADA no favour; it becomes a series of personal vengeances, slandering and bridge burning. As a VP or manager he may make a great worker for the movement, but with such a long, unmarked road ahead, sport needs a leader in WADA, with a working compass and good foresight. Pound has great passion for sports, that to me is clear, and somewhere under that armour-tough image I saw a decent man who, deep down, knows cleaning up sport is not his fight over the long course, but yours and mine and our communities'. Just wish he would make this acknowledgement a larger part of his message.

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