Sport’s Trouble-shooter

When young Canadian swimmer Dick Pound emerged victorious from the water after taking the 110 yards freestyle gold at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, he had no reason to believe that any of his competitors were fuelled by performance-enhancing drugs.

Even if he had, there was nothing that could have been done about it. Given the intensity of the focus on doping in sport today, it comes as something of a surprise to be reminded that it was simply not an issue for sports governing bodies back then. Many athletes were taking various substances in their quest for improved results, but they simply were not breaking any rules.

“It wasn’t an issue because there were no rules,” said Pound, who at the age of 73 is the recognised face of the fight to keep sport clean.

As the instigator and first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), Pound has been central in efforts to bring rigour, process, transparency and a consistency of approach to an issue that has exposed hypocrisy and criminality at the heart of certain sports. He has discovered that an already complex scientific and legal process has been further clouded by self-interest of individuals and governing bodies with much to lose should allegations of doping be proven against athletes in their sport. Most recently, Pound chaired the independent Wada Commission, whose investigations into doping in Russia led to a ban on its athletes competing in international events and could see them excluded from the Rio 2016 summer Olympic Games. Its findings also blew a massive hole in what remained of the reputation of the Lamine Diack presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations and set significant challenges for his successor, Sebastian Coe.

“At the 1960 Rome Olympic Games we knew that weightlifters and some others were on steroids, but it was only when the Danish cyclist (Knud Enemark Jensen) died at those Games, partly as a result of amphetamines, that things started to happen,” Pound told SportBusiness International.


Initially, concerns over doping centred firmly on the health of athletes and while that remains a paramount consideration, the implications of cheating and the need to promote and preserve clean sport continue to be better understood. The decision of sponsors Adidas and Nestle to turn their backs on athletics in the wake of the independent commission’s findings are indications that the corporate world is wising up to the potential for significant reputation damage by association with corrupt sports in which doping is out of control.

Pound’s take on the issue is to the point. “Athletes who cheat make a mockery of the aspirational goals of sport and that is compounded by the involvement of officials and coaches,” he said. But back in the 60s it was looked on as an exclusively medical issue and the International Olympic Committee’s response was to set up a medical commission, headed by Count Alexandre de Merode, with a list of banned substances drawn up. Testing was in place for the 1968 winter Games in Grenoble.

For Pound, Perth ‘62 was the last major meet of his swimming career and he focused on qualifying as a chartered accountant first and then a lawyer.

“There was no money involved and when I finished at university, I had to work for a living,” he said. However, sport continued to play a major part in his life.

“I realised how much volunteers did to help make sports possible and I felt that if you have drawn from that well, you have an obligation to put back,” he added. “I got so much from sport as an athlete that I was willing to do anything to help.”

That attitude, along with his professional qualifications and standing within sport in his home country, put him on the fast track to the top of sports governance. By the time he was 26, Pound was secretary of the Canadian Olympic Committee, a role he held as Montreal hosted the 1976 summer Games.

“I found myself running the host Olympic Committee at an Olympic Games, which was a great opportunity,” he reflected. The year after the Games, he was elected president of the Canadian Olympic Committee – a position he held for five years – and he joined the International Olympic Committee in 1978. However, it was when Juan Antonio Samaranch assumed the presidency of the IOC in 1980 that Pound’s influence within the Olympic movement really began to flourish.

“He was a completely new broom, a full-time president with clear ideas of what he wanted to accomplish,” Pound said. “He was willing to let people run with the ball and I got a call from him one day when he simply announced that I was now chair of the TV Negotiation Committee – something which hadn’t previously existed.

“I didn’t know anything about the subject at the time, in fact nobody did. But Samaranch had decided that things were a little too cosy. For example, [US commercial broadcaster] ABC seemed to have an inside track and always knew how much to bid. Samaranch decided that we had to step in.

“The same thing happened when he decided we needed a marketing commission and that I should chair it. These were huge opportunities for me and he put me on a long leash.”

Key role

Under Samaranch, Pound played a key role in turning around the Olympic Games, whose aura had been tarnished by the tit-for-tat boycotts of Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984.

By the time the show moved to Seoul in 1988 things were looking a whole lot brighter. It was once again a truly global event and Pound and his TV team had ensured that the Games would be seen in more than 160 countries, and that broadcasters were paying a record $403m (€362m) for the privilege.

But while he had helped ensure a new lease of life for the Olympic Games, Seoul was also to provide Pound with his first up-close-and-personal experience of the issues that continue to undermine the reputation of sport to this day.

The blue riband event of the Games, the men’s 100 metres, was won in a world record time by Canadian Ben Johnson, who beat Carl Lewis to the gold medal. However, a blood test showed the presence of a banned substance used to boost muscle growth.

As a compatriot and lawyer, Pound was asked to represent Johnson during a hearing. Pound was assured by the athlete that he was innocent, but test results showed beyond doubt that not only was the drug in his system, but there was also evidence of habitual, long-term use.

“It was,” recalled Pound, “my first hands-on experience of knowing that athletes lie and their coaches lie too. I had hoped that taking away his medal would send out the right message to sport.”

It was certainly not a message that was heeded in cycling and the aftershocks of the 1998 Tour de France scandal – in which all nine riders on the Festina team admitted using EPO – saw officials and riders of other teams arrested and interrogated while some teams pulled out altogether.

Pound remembered how a discussion of the Festina affair and a distinctly off-message outburst by Samaranch helped push doping further up the IOC agenda.

“Samaranch made the mistake of saying that it is only doping if you can prove it damages the health of athletes. He said it in public and there was a Spanish journalist in the room. The stuff really hit the fan,” he said.

The response was the start of a process of realisation that doping could not be tackled by the IOC alone and needed to be addressed by what Pound described as “a completely independent agency not controlled by any party.”

By bringing International Federations, athletes, governments, National Olympic Committees and the pharmaceutical world together, Pound believed he had the building blocks needed to create Wada, which was up and running ahead of the 2000 Games in Sydney.

“I agreed to be president for the first two years, but I was there for nine,” Pound added. “It was fun to be there from the beginning. We got the Wada Code in place and the Unesco International Convention, under which nations signed up to the Code. The time was right.”


Pound certainly did not underestimate the challenge.

“I knew it would be a hard fight dealing with well organised cheating. There was complete public denial in many cases,” he said.

Leading the charge for anti-doping brought him into conflict with organisations and individuals, notably now-disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. “I ran around with a large bullseye on my back for years, but I knew that anybody fighting against Wada would self-identify by criticising Wada,” Pound said. “Of course a lot of flak was directed at me, but I never minded being attacked by the bad guys.” 

For years the ‘bad guys’ held most, if not all, of the cards. Armstrong hid behind his shield of denial and, before it finally cracked, took the opportunity to fi re broadsides at Pound, calling for him to be fi red from his roles at both Wada and the IOC.

Maybe it is not surprising that he became something of a hate figure for some. His determination to change the rules and do whatever it took to remove the veil of secrecy around doping and shine light onto the practice whenever and wherever it was found was hardly likely to make him universally popular.

“The thing is that everybody thinks the problem is worse somewhere else. But there is no country and no sport where there isn’t a problem. So far as International Federations are concerned, the issue is that presidents need to get re-elected and that doesn’t happen if you acknowledge there’s a problem,” he said.

That, he added, is where the road to redemption starts.

“If an alcoholic can’t acknowledge they have a problem, then no cure is possible,” he said.

Pound needed all of his experience of being in the firing line in January, when he delivered the findings of the second part of the report of his Independent Wada Commission at a press conference.

Having already lifted the lid on massive doping problems in Russian athletics, the Commission turned its attention to the IAAF and concluded that it was rotten all the way up to president Diack.

The report also concluded that the IAAF Council ‘could not have been unaware of the extent of doping in athletics and the non-enforcement of applicable anti-doping rules.’

Despite that, Pound believes that Diack’s successor, Sebastian Coe, is the right person to lead the IAAF out of its malaise, even though Coe claimed before the presidential election that the media had “declared war” on athletics.

“Parts of the media seemed to be after Seb Coe’s head and I didn’t go into the press conference to act as his PR,” he said. “We said in the report that there had to be some collective knowledge, but, about Russia, they would have had no idea about the extent, the extortion. We didn’t single anybody out. It was a collective failure, but he is capable of leading the organisation out of this.”

It will take a different approach to achieve such a goal.

“You can’t have a 19th century governance structure in 2016,” Pound said. According to Pound, “the organisation that got itself into this mess is best placed to get itself out,” and he referred back to his own experience at the IOC at the time of the Salt Lake City bidding scandal for the 2002 winter Games.

Evidence that Salt Lake City bid officials had used bribes to secure votes led to the expulsions of 10 IOC members and 10 others being sanctioned. There were those who wondered at the time how the organisation could salvage its reputation from the wreckage. “We used Salt Lake to make major changes that went beyond dealing with the specific issues of bribery,” Pound explained.

Pound said he was “shocked and appalled” when his Commission uncovered evidence that “someone at the top of sport could extort money from athletes to cover up test results.”

Ongoing battle

He has experienced personal abuse from athletes who were later proved to be cheats and been exposed to near ridicule in the media. In many ways, his work for Wada might be thought to have been thankless, particularly as he admitted that the never-ending battle against doping is one that will never be won. But there is an important caveat.

“You have to accept human nature,” he said. “Some people are just sociopathic about rules, but if you pick a number, even 99 per cent (clean), then perhaps we can get to that level with education and the right attitude. It is about winning small victories and creating a lot of leaks in the dam. We need some of the tectonic plates to shift.”

One of the shifts he wants to see is in the approach of national governments, which are often reluctant to push the issue up their agendas.

He also wants to see the monitoring of national performance, in relation to the Unesco International Convention, changed.

“At the moment, two countries are monitored for two years at a time,” he explained. “As there are around 200 countries involved, a nation could go for 100 years before its performance is properly monitored.”

Unsurprisingly, Pound would also like to see Wada itself given the power not simply to report on doping issues, but also to issue provisional sanctions.

“If I were king of the world, Wada would be able to make determinations that an investigation was necessary and that the body under investigation would have to pay for it,” he said. “If they didn’t agree, they would be expelled (from their International Federation).

“Having more muscle would get everybody’s attention and it would be a deterrent and, as we know, that has an effect.”

Had things worked out differently, Pound could have become president of the International Olympic Committee after Samaranch stood down. His success at the helm of the IOC’s Marketing and TV Commissions meant that his stock was high and he certainly believed that he was, in many ways, the “best prepared” of the candidates.

However, as Samaranch’s trouble-shooter, his appointment to sort out the Salt Lake City scandal pushed him out of the reckoning. “I knew I was toast,” he said. “I was investigating people who would be asked to vote for me. They liked the idea of a clean organisation, but didn’t necessarily like the cleaner.”

In the end, he did stand, coming third, and said his only disappointment was finishing behind the subsequently disgraced Korean, Un Yong Kim, who was jailed for corruption involving millions of dollars siphoned from sport.

“I guess I was always a long shot for the presidency,” he reflected. “But I think I’ve done more good as president of Wada.”

Curriculum Vitae

Dick Pound, former president, World Anti-Doping Agency

Pound was born in the Canadian province of Ontario on March 22, 1942. He was an accomplished squash player in his youth, but he excelled in swimming, representing Canada at the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago and the 1960 summer Olympic Games in Rome. He secured gold in the 110 yards freestyle at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth.

After rising up through the ranks at the Canadian Olympic Committee, he served as president of the organisation from 1977 to 1982 and he also joined the International Olympic Committee in 1978. He served as a vice-president of the IOC on two occasions, from 1987 to 1991 and from 1996 to 2000.

In 1999 he was named as the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, a role he held for eight years. In 2014 he was appointed chairman of Olympic Broadcasting Services.

Most recent

As the end of May approaches and the Premier League continues to work on ‘Project Restart’, Adam Nelson examines the legal issues facing English football’s operating bodies as they push for football’s return.

US Olympic national governing body has suffered declining revenues and membership numbers since the onset of the health crisis but large financial reserves coupled with a move to put competitions and coaching courses onto digital platforms have stemmed losses.

Tom King talks to Razlan Razali, team principal of Petronas Yamaha SRT MotoGP team, about the growth potential for motorcycle racing in Southeast Asia.

Mitchell Sports, chief executive of boutique sports advisory firm Tipping Point Sports LLC, examines the key elements of the industry's recovery from the pandemic