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Just Say No
Frank Deford
December 16, 2002
Hard-charging IOC veteran Dick Pound has a new mission—to end drug use in the Games
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December 16, 2002

Just Say No

Hard-charging IOC veteran Dick Pound has a new mission—to end drug use in the Games

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Dick Pound, the Canadian whom his devoted Olympic colleagues rejected as their leader, is probably the savviest person in sport today. This side of Charles Barkley, he is certainly the most candid. Now he is also a crusader, the scourge of drugs in sport. He is terribly complicated too. "I'm a cynical idealist," he says in his law office in Montreal, where he makes a living when he is not doing the dirty work, the world over, gratis, for the International Olympic Committee.

It helps that Pound is the classic quick study. He learned quickly what buttons to push. "All you have to do is know a little more than almost everybody else on every agenda," he says of working for volunteer organizations. "When I got into the Canadian Olympic Association, I figured it out: You don't have to make me president—just let me be the secretary. If you write the first draft, you have control. And then you become indispensable."

Of course, we know two things: Nobody likes a smart-ass, and the graveyards are full of indispensable men. Thus, when Juan Antonio Samaranch was taken off the Olympic-stage in July 2001, the IOC members gave the president's job to a pleasant Belgian doctor named Jacques Rogge. Says Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports, which has U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2008, "I told Dick, 'You can't be elected unless you start kissing babies. Not asses necessarily, just babies' But Dick has an unbelievable brain, he is spin-less, and he tells everybody exactly what he thinks."

So Pound, who refuses to suffer fools, even the ones who vote, paid the price of rejection for not having been diplomatic enough over the years. "Someone once said that diplomacy is something you do until you find a rock," says Pound, 60. "I don't think it's any coincidence that all the hard things have come my way, but none of the pomp and circ. The trouble with too many people in the IOC is that they're always: ready, aim...aim...aim...."

But here was the twist. Rather than quit the IOC after being outvoted for the top job, Pound, the classic wheeler-dealer insider, the television impresario, the marketeer, the Olympics' internal prosecutor (and sometime apologist), became the protector of purity in international sport. As the new chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Pound is not only the chief magistrate in sport's battle against performance-enhancing substances but also its conscience. "The drug problem has gone on too long, and not enough resources have been devoted to it," he says. "It's insulting to someone who comes into sport for the right reason to be cheated by someone using drugs. I don't just mean steroids but also things like blood doping. We're closing our eyes to the nutritional-supplement programs. But now it's open season on anyone who has cheated or helped people to cheat."

For so long the IOC's antidrug stance was a Potemkin village. The IOC member in charge until WADA was created in November 1999 was the late Alexandre, Prince de M�rode, a man whose day job was the presidency of the Belgium Genealogical and Heraldic office. The Prince was thus well trained in what constitutes a good front. "Why has no one thought to test ministers at the end of a parliamentary session?" he said once when governments started to question Olympic drug policy. Samaranch, along with many of his sycophants, operated on the same theory that the baseball union and owners now call policy: If nobody gets caught, then nobody is taking drugs.

Pound was, however, an early, lonely voice against doping, so his transformation from the Olympic Richelieu to the Olympic Javert may not be as stark as it seems. Certainly, too, no one has suffered Pound's wrath more than the U.S.—especially USA Track & Field, which claimed that it did not have to divulge the names of its drug violators because American privacy law forbade disclosure. "Bulls—-!" Pound roars. "A fabrication. There is no such law. Why shouldn't the United States go along? This isn't trying war criminals. We're designing a program to protect those who don't cheat."

Pound is hardly anti-American—among other things, his wife, Julie, is one—but he delights in fencing with U.S. Olympic policy makers. There's no doubt that his hectoring helped force the USOC to intensify its drug-testing efforts to fall in line with what WADA demands of athletes and Olympic federations in the rest of the world. Pound continues to view the U.S.'s desultory role in the IOC more in sadness than in anger. "The USOC is so internal-looking," he says. "All they ever think is, It's our money that's going to run this Euro-trash organization. The USOC could be influential without being powerful. But you can't be insular and then complain about not having any international influence."

As Pound knows, the brightest Americans who are interested in sports administration gravitate toward U.S. pro leagues or college athletics. Few Americans have any desire to get involved in Olympic sports federations, in which international leaders are developed, alliances formed and IOC policy nurtured. "You know," he says, looking back at the bribery scandal that grew out of Salt Lake City's failure to land the 1998 Winter Games, "the only reason—the only reason—that the mess in Salt Lake City happened was that the United States still doesn't know its ass from first base internationally. Look, we'd just given the Summer Games to Atlanta for '96. We couldn't come right back to the same country two years later. No way. We told Salt Lake City that. Just be patient. But, you see, nobody in the USOC learns the international."

For Europeans, it's enough that Pound comes from the wrong side of the Atlantic—he is guilty by contiguousness. "In the IOC," he sighs, "I'm viewed as an American." In fact Pound is the all-Canadian boy. He was born in St. Catharines, Ont., raised in the tiny town of Ocean Falls, B.C., and then moved to Montreal as a teenager. "As a Canadian," he says, "you learn that you cannot impose yourself on anyone. As a Canadian, I have a much better understanding of the cultural and linguistic differences in the world. In most places, like here in Quebec, the melting pot is not melting."

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