Warning on genetic cheating in sports (2007, Nov 1)


Warning on genetic cheating in sportsBy Roger Blitz in London Financial Times updated 7:43 p.m. CT, Thurs., Nov. 1, 2007 Genetic manipulation will eventually dwarf drug-cheating as the main issue to confront sports, the outgoing chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency said on Thursday.

Dick Pound said he was convinced scientists would make genetic development available to athletes within five or six years, allowing them to enhance performance by bulking up their bodies by up to 30 per cent.

Mr Pound, who leaves the sports doping monitoring body at the end of the year after six years at the helm, said Wada had begun contact with leading global scientists and was running several research projects about genetic manipulation.

He said that scientists were telling Wada that they were already receiving inquiries from coaches and athletes about how genetic manipulation could improve performance - even though research is still at a stage where scientists are working in laboratory conditions with rats.

"We are working with them to have a non-invasive [test] ready by the time these techniques are being used," he told the FT.

Sports are grappling to protect their integrity following a series of high-profile drug scandals. Athletics has been rocked by the admission by US athlete Marion Jones, an Olympic champion in Sydney in 2000, that she took performance-enhancing drugs. Cycling's Tour de France endured another year of drug scandals, prompting team disqualifications and the desertion of several sponsors.

Mr Pound, who was attending an FT sports industry conference, said he believed the Marion Jones case had helped harden the mood of the US Olympic Committee after assuming for years that drug-cheating in athletics was a problem only for other countries.

But he said US professional sports continued to show a blinkered attitude. "US professional sports are in a combination of denial and responding with the absolute minimum they think they have to do to keep Congress off their backs. It is only legislation that gets their attention," said Mr Pound.

The fight against drug cheats would be improved by speeding up the process of drug testing by sporting bodies, he added. But he agreed that individual sports and their federations only tended to crack down on their stars after the painful experience of a high-profile scandal.

"It is very hard to quantify the scale of the problem. Some countries understand the problem, but don't know how to go about solving it. Some are still trying to pretend there is no problem. It will be a combination of passage of time and a willingness to assume responsibility," Mr Pound said.

He added that the Beijing Olympics next year would be equipped with state-of-the-art anti-doping testing, but Wada remained short of funds with an overall annual budget of $23m.

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