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David Howman: Clean-up of drugs poison

Kiwi David Howman has entered the last six months of a 13-year tenure as director-general of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Andrew Alderson finds a man more intent on the job at hand than sculpting a legacy.
New Zealander David Howman wants more athletes to raise their voices against drug use.
New Zealander David Howman wants more athletes to raise their voices against drug use.

1. When will the next report into the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) corruption investigation be released?

Former IAAF president Lamine Diack resigned from his position as an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee in November while he is investigated by French police over allegations he took bribes to cover up positive Russian drugs tests in 2011.

Part two is due next week. Howman says the findings show how Wada can be an effective regulator and monitor.

"Expect more detail on the alleged level of corruption and the payouts between the top guys in Russian athletics and the IAAF. It's dreadful and shocking.

"Everyone is hoping with those guys gone, everything will be better, but you've got to make sure all the poison is out of the wound. We have to be satisfied those who are charged or go to prison are the only ones who were engaged."

2. What is the main advancement for Wada leading into Olympic year?

Howman says the enhancement of the athlete biological passport, the means by which doping effects are measured over time, could be a key detection difference: "This will enable the test results from individual country testing systems and international sports federations to be combined and accumulated. We need to enforce that so doping tests don't go missing because someone fails to use the system properly. That may lead to more suspicious profiles and sanctions.

3. How can athletes' voices be better harnessed?

Nick Willis' persistent and passionate calls to address and erase doping in sport have been a benchmark. His integrity, particularly calling for block bans in the wake of the Russian doping scandal, has been inspirational to many.

Howman agrees, but would like more athletes to offer solidarity.

"It's vital others support people like Nick. Only then will the voice of the clean athlete come through. I give men's tennis as an example where we're hearing it loudly, whereas six to seven years ago a lot of top players were complaining about the anti-doping programme. Now Andy Murray, Roger Federer and others are saying 'bring on the testers, take our blood, we'd prefer to be tested than left alone'.

"Certainly that's an example we'd like to see spread, particularly in team sports where we don't hear many voices."

4. How is the Rio laboratory shaping up?

The lab regained its accreditation in May after being suspended in August 2013 because of failures to detect banned substances in blind tests.

Howman says with the Olympics in August, the lab's compliance is paramount. "We've got strong eyes and ears on it, but there's concern about how doping tests are conducted in Brazilian sport.

"They are not operating under the 2015 code and have until March 18 to remedy that, otherwise their non-compliance becomes an issue."

In November the anti-doping agencies for Russia, Andorra, Israel, Argentina, Bolivia and Ukraine were declared non-compliant with Wada's code. Brazil, Belgium, France, Greece, Mexico and Spain were placed on a watch list.

5. Is gene doping still a major threat?

Howman says its impact has diminished because a gene therapy test can be administered.

"It's not available in all labs, but we've got it out there.

"We'll continue to work in that area with the benefit of having a top gene therapist on one of our committees. These are guys who look at it in terms of normal health and how it can be used medically and ethically.

"It doesn't mean people won't try it, but we'd be in a position to combat."

6. Will Russia's track and field team be banned from Rio?

Ultimately that's the decision of the IAAF, but Wada has a role to check that they're compliant.

"We've got other countries [testing] in Russia," Howman says. "Agreements are about to be signed so others can be tested at the expense of the Russian Government. No one in Russia has the authority to do it [once the Moscow lab was shut down].

"What we envisage as part of compliance programme is that if we don't get the necessary answers, we will send people in to inquire. It should now take days or weeks rather than months."

7. How are the Wada operating budgets coping?

Wada receive investment of approximately US$30 million per annum - 50 per cent from governments and 50 per cent from the International Olympic Committee. Howman says they're looking at means by which more investment can help achieve their objectives.

"We've set up a charitable foundation in the US which might attract supporters. Another viable option might be for broadcasters to offer 0.5 per cent of what they are prepare to pay for the privilege of showing matches to go into sport integrity units like anti-doping."

- Herald on Sunday

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