05/19/2017 5:52PM

Speakers call for out-of-competition testing at conference

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WASHINGTON – An international slate of speakers on Friday at the Pan Am Conference stressed the importance of out-of-competition testing and a strong culture in combating doping, not just in racing but in other sports as well.

The message delivered by the speakers dovetailed with the message stressed by the organizer of the conference, The Jockey Club, over the past decade. The speakers included an attorney who headed up an independent assessment of Russian state doping in its Olympic program, plus the former chief science officer for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a private company that The Jockey Club has backed to take a leading role in anti-doping programs in racing.

During his presentation, Prof. Richard McLaren, the attorney, outlined the conclusions reached by a panel he chaired that investigated the Russian doping program, which entailed a top-to-bottom corruption of the country’s athletic program, from its sports drug-enforcement agency to its individual athletes and trainers. McLaren said the “culture” in Russia’s sports program had been completely corrupted, and that addressing cultural shortcomings was often more important than addressing deficiencies in an anti-doping program’s rules.

“You can change rules, but that doesn’t change the on-the-ground behavior,” McLaren said.

Dr. Larry Bowers, the former USADA chief science officer, listed what he described as the elements of a strong anti-doping program, which included the establishment of a wide-ranging out-of-competition testing program. In racing, out-of-competition testing programs are in place in only a handful of states, and many critics of U.S. anti-doping policies and practices have pointed to that deficiency as a major gap in the sport’s ability to detect cheaters.

“If the perception is that there are periods of time that you can hide the athlete and not be subject to testing,” Bowers said, “it just opens a holiday for cheating if the person is inclined to do that.”

Out-of-competition testing programs are designed to target substances such as blood-doping drugs and growth hormones that are given far in an advance of an athletic performance. Racing states that have out-of-competition testing programs have not announced any significant findings from their programs despite collecting thousands of samples from Thoroughbreds, with opinion split as to whether the tests are failing to detect drug usage or looking for substances that aren’t being used.

In addition to issuing support for out-of-competition testing “at any point in a horse’s career,” Louis Romanet, the chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, reiterated the organization’s stance that “horses should compete only when they are free of medication and drugs,” a reference to the legal race-day use of the diuretic furosemide in North American racing jurisdictions. The Jockey Club has backed proposals to ban race-day use of the drug, which is used to mitigate bleeding in the lungs, and the position has created a gulf between the organization and many horsemen’s groups, leading to a stalemate.

The Jockey Club has contended that furosemide has performance-enhancing capabilities and that banning the race-day use of furosemide would improve racing’s public perception. Horsemen have said that the drug is useful to mitigate bleeding in the lungs and allows horses to run to their potential.