Exclusive: Q&A with WADA president John Fahey

WADA president John Fahey gives an address at a symposium in Lausanne, Switzerland.

WADA president John Fahey gives an address at a symposium in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Image credit: AFP Photo)

In this exclusive interview the World Anti-Doping Agency's president John Fahey speaks with Cyclingnews about the objectives of his final year as president, the fundamental changes that need to be made for WADA to better combat the fight against doping and if cycling has seen a cultural shift following the Lance Armstrong case.

Fahey is also asked to discuss the role of UCI in cleaning up the sport, if Pat McQuaid is the right person to be president of the sport's governing body and the possible existence of doping cultures in other sports.

Cyclingnews: You have a year left as the President of WADA. What are the major objectives you'd like to achieve before you step aside?

John Fahey: The key is to ensure that when we finish the WADA code review and have approval for the changes to our code that we've got the best set-up weapons possible and available. There's no doubt going forward that there is strong support for four-year terms for serious drugs, and not two years. We need investigation powers that we don't have at the moment and I sincerely hope that's carried through as well.

There are a number of other areas that we need changes in order to operate more effectively in the fight against doping. It's the code review and the outcome of that review that's first and foremost in my mind.

I also think there's got to be recognition and awareness that doping is as large as it ever was. There are still cheats and they've not gone away. This is a big problem still and to an extent there's been a wake-up call recently and I hope that translates into action going forward. Why are many sports not using the biological passport? All team sports can use it. I hope that this wake-up call we're seeing right now with the cases involving Armstrong, Fuentes, Australian sport, Rasmussen, might lead to an adoption of a number of those programs where there's been reluctance in the past.

CN: Is the new WADA code going to be your legacy?

Fahey: I've never worried about legacies in anything I've done. I've always tried to do my very best. I have a simple ambition to make whatever contribution I can to the organisations I've been part of.

To do this job you've got to have a strong belief about what sport is and what it stands for. If you've got that drive in you then clearly the very thought of cheating is abhorrent. I love sport. I want it to be about everything that's good about sport. Cheats are everything that's bad about sport and I don't want to see any cheats left.

CN: What's the biggest challenge in front of WADA at the moment?

Fahey: Complacency. Yes, complacency in the anti-doping world and that we've fixed this problem when we haven't. That complacency translates into wealthy sport, in the sport of football where coaches in my country are constantly complaining to me that anti-doping costs too much money. Well hold on, of course it does, but what price is integrity in your sport? Your reputation is the most important thing that you have and if the reputation goes down the drain then that's the end of that sport.

CN: Can any sport currently say it has integrity in the fight against doping?

Fahey: Look, there's a strong commitment in most sports. Frequently that commitment doesn't translate into action though. There's no reason why most team sports can't adopted the biological passport programme which has been around for three or four years. It costs money and requires resources and for some reason or other they don't think that's necessary. Maybe the events of recent times will prove the [need for a] wake-up call.

Cyclingnews: Earlier today WADA director general Mr Howman specifically talked about athletes travelling to specific and remote locations in the world where testing was hard to carry out. He talked about athletes staying on the top of mountains for altitude training and being in locations where they could see testers coming due to small airports and single roads up to locations. Is that a genuine threat to the anti-doping fight?

Fahey: It's a simple fact but to the extent that all sports have a testing pool and those within the pool have to give their whereabouts every single day. That gives you some level of capacity to find them and test them but if you've got an athlete who moves continents to go training or goes to a remote part of the world, how much money do you spend to get a sample? The temptation is to wait until he or she comes back to the capital city or our own country so it's in that context that on some level there is the capacity for some athletes to stay away from where they might be tested.

There are ways and means that athletes will use and there have to be ways for us to overcome that avoidance process and we do have those. But it's a lot easier to test someone in a capital city than, dare I say it, the mountains of Kenya.

CN: That sounds as though the reality is that if an athlete travels far away they have a green light to dope, potentially.

Fahey: There's been concern expressed. I mention Kenya and the altitude training athletes from all around the world go to. To the credit of the IAAF they sent a team in last December and took 40 samples and managed to get it to a lab within the 36-hour window of opportunity.

CN: In 2006 your predecessor Dick Pound said of Floyd Landis "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is." That was after Landis tested positive for testosterone but before he was sanctioned. Was that an appropriate comment to make at the time?

Fahey: I'm a cautious person, by nature and I don't particularly like talking in generalities but to the extent but if something extraordinary happens you've got to take some notice of it and then make some examination if you've got integrity. That comment of the ride over the mountain that was done with prohibited substances, and what he did that day would make you take notice.

CN: So where do you draw the line as both the head of WADA and a sport fan when you're watching a performance in any sport. Winning isn't a positive test but if there's a performance way above expectations or above the expected playing field should you be suspicious?

Fahey: The events management of any event is responsible for the anti-doping programme. I don't sit in the stands and pick up the hotline and say go for X or go for Y because they've run out of their skin today. That's not my job but you can sincerely hope that those running that event are using an intelligent approach to who they are testing.

CN: So when did you know that Lance Armstrong was a cheat?

Fahey: When I read the Reasoned Decision of USADA. I have read many things about Lance Armstrong, including his book when I was recovering from a cancerous lung taken out. A good friend of mine gave me "It's Not About The Bike" and said I'd find it really inspiring, and I did. It was 2001, and I didn't know that one day that I'd be sitting front and centre in the world of anti-doping and that his name would come up prominently. The day I became president I was told that 'one of these days Lance Armstrong is going to be dealt with as he should have been'. I patiently watched and read a number of papers and it was always suggested that there were problems but you can have all the suspicions and have all the advice under the sun but in the end you need the irrefutable arguments and they were delivered in bucket loads by the USADA reasoned decision.

CN: Which prophet told you of Armstrong's fate?

Fahey: In every organisation people give you unsolicited advice or comments and those comments were given to me in many parts of the world by many people in the anti-doping movement. You take little notice of them other than to say that 'if there's smoke there's probably a fire somewhere'. Ultimately, you hope justice will be done and we now know that justice has been done in respect to that bully, liar and cheat.

CN: Pat McQuaid said last year that WADA had a vendetta against cycling. What did you make of that comment?

Fahey: That's absolute rubbish. I have no idea where that comes from. He went on, when asked to give details, that the question should be put to Mr Howman. I saw that as defamatory and insulting. That's one of those insults that one must unfortunately take on the chin. It had no substance, and it never has. I have no idea why those sorts of comments have to be made by anyone.

CN: You say defamatory. Did you consider legal action?

Fahey: No. I think I know enough about the law of defamation from my background to say that if legal action was taken it would have had a good chance of success but you take a lot of things on the chin in the name of sport. To me it was just disappointing. To suggest that we have a vendetta against cycling or any sport is just rubbish. WADA operates fairly, firmly and properly.

CN: Do you think McQuaid should be the UCI President?

Fahey: That's a matter for cycling. I understand that the sport is an autonomous part of our community and each sport dictates how it operates and who holds the positions. That's a question for the constituent members of cycling to answer. If they're not happy they should do something about it. If they choose not to do anything about it, all I can assume is that the current leadership is the right leadership for their sport.

CN: Is the UCI capable of cleaning up cycling with its current leadership and its current behaviour?

Fahey: They're capable of doing it but they need to open their eyes to how it could be done. It has to be done away from the current leadership and current management for integrity and transparency to be brought back into the sport. Somebody has to look at what's going on from the outside, not be dictated to from the inside. When they recognise that, that's how they can succeed in restoring the faith of their constituent members and the sport's millions of fans.

CN: Would it be disappointing if Hein Verbruggen still had influence in the UCI?

Fahey: Again that's a matter for cycling. I can't comment. They operate separately to me and to my role. What I should say to the constituents within cycling is, 'you have to ask yourself the question, are you happy with how your sport is being run? If not you should do something about it. If you don't do something about it I can only assume you're happy.'

CN: Why do you think cycling is constantly in the headlines for doping? Is it because it's dirtier than the majority of other sports, because of the media spot light or because it uncovers more?

Fahey: There's little doubt that performance enhancing drugs can benefit cyclists. Does that mean there's a propensity to dope? If you read the Armstrong decision the answer is yes. But there's not only a propensity but a culture. Has that finished? I'd say it's a lot less with the bio passport but has that eliminated all the cheats? There's no doubt though that there was this culture that was rife in cycling. What all of us would like to know if whether the culture has been fixed and if the sport is operating as clean as we'd want it to? I'm not sure we know that and that's why this door opening is necessary for an independent inquiry.

CN: What the general public also wants to know is whether this culture exists in other sports, and if so why hasn't that come out? For example tennis, rugby, football...

Fahey: Well there's no evidence of a cultural level in other sports. The jury is out in Australia with the information given last week but we need to see that play out to see how widespread it is. I don't know of a culture in other sports, whether it's swimming or football or tennis.

CN: But before the Armstrong verdict came out, maybe 10 years ago, if I asked someone in your position if there was a doping culture within cycling, on the record you'd have had to say no because of a lack of evidence. To the contrary, earlier in the interview you said sooner or later Armstrong would be dealt with. How do we not know that those cultures don't exist in other sports and that it's just that they're not in the limelight yet?

Fahey: I don't rule it out. I just say I don't know at this point in time. Next year it might be another sport that has been exposed. We don't catch everyone, and there are cheats still succeeding and that's why we need to work very hard. There's no magic bullet.


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