The head of the World Anti-Doping Agency believes the Lance Armstrong case is just part of a wide-ranging doping battle that will never be won.
Speaking Monday at a conference on how to increase cooperation between the pharmaceutical industry and anti-doping bodies, WADA president John Fahey cautioned against euphoria in the wake of the U.S. investigation that led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.
“Do I feel we’re winning the fight? The answer is no,” Fahey said. “I think what (the) Armstrong (case) tells me is, bubbling away below the surface there are still problems that could surface at any time.
“Are we cleaner? Look, this is a fight sadly that will never be won.”
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused Armstrong of helping run the most sophisticated doping program in sports within his U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams. USADA’s report included witness testimony from many of Armstrong’s former teammates.
“I believe there’s far greater awareness,” Fahey said. “We’ve got more knowledge of the damage that can happen, and I believe that each time we can catch someone in the manner we’ve seen so sensationally with Armstrong, the deterrent factor is important.”
USADA ordered Armstrong banned from the sport for life and stripped him of his Tour titles – a decision later ratified by the International Cycling Union.
“You asked what we could learn from that case, what are the lessons going forward?” said Fahey, who was joined at the conference by IOC President Jacques Rogge. “Those teams consisted not only of athletes but a fairly extensive entourage who supported what was occurring over that period.”
WADA director general David Howman praised USADA’s efforts in tackling Armstrong.
“USADA could have just sat back and said ‘This is too hard,’ but they didn’t,” Howman told The Associated Press in a separate interview.
“It shows the clean athlete that you cannot sit back and let a bully take over,” Howman said. “The bully took over, and he survived for a while and now he’s fallen off the perch.”
Howman thinks it is unlikely Armstrong, who has always denied doping, will ever confess to cheating.
“I didn’t see any confession coming from his tweet, where he was lounging around in front of his ... Tour paraphernalia,” Howman said.
Armstrong posted a photograph on Twitter over the weekend in which he is lying on a couch at his home in Texas with seven yellow Tour de France jerseys mounted on the wall. He tweeted: “Back in Austin and just layin’ around...”
French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron called it “a further provocation, without any doubt.”
The French Anti-Doping Agency worked with pharmaceutical companies to develop tests for CERA – a form of the blood-booster EPO – which led to four cyclists testing positive on the 2008 Tour and several athletes at the Beijing Olympics in the same year.
But Fahey expressed fears that unlicensed products flooding the market are getting out of control, and that drug companies have an even greater role to play in helping stop the flow.
“Detecting what might be performance enhancing at an early stage,” he said. “Eliminating doping in sport, right down to our fitness centers right around the world. We always talk about the elite, but the problem is far more widespread.”
Rogge agreed that the anti-doping fight must go further than catching the cheating athlete.
“Corruption in sports invariably implicates other forms of corruption. Sophisticated doping often implicates organized crime networks which operate beyond national borders,” Rogge said.
“We need help from governments, but also those who are there to apply the law, scientists, the medical community, coaches and the pharmaceutical industry.”
Rogge called for more out-of-competition tests to “detect cheats even before they arrive” at events.
“Doping cartels are constantly seeking new ways to avoid detection and they always seek new substances,” Rogge said. “It is heartening to see that several pharmaceutical industries have contributed to anti-doping efforts.”
Philip Thomson, vice president for global communications at GlaxoSmithKline, said he hopes his company is joined by others in helping WADA identify areas where it can catch drug cheats, even though confidentiality becomes a sensitive issue when sharing information.
“It is a challenge, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “But it’s also inevitable that we will have to work with other companies ... We work with over 55 countries externally to discover new medicines.”
Howman said sport at all levels – professional or amateur – has the potential to interest illegal markets.
“The increasing engagement of the criminal underworld in providing banned substances, the incentive to engage in trafficking remains very high,” Howman said. “The substances they attain are raw materials delivered from the east and put together in kitchen laboratories, unregulated and unsanitized ... that should be of a major concern to all governmental authorities.”
Drug trafficking in the underworld is linked to the same criminals involved in “money laundering, corruption, betting and fraud,” Howman said.