Kiwi David Howman's 13-year tenure as World Anti-Doping Agency director-general ends on Tuesday.

He started with a budget which would have "kept the lights on for six weeks", yet helped expose some of sport's biggest scandals. He assessed his contribution with Andrew Alderson.

HoS: Is the Russian athletic team's Rio Olympics ban your piece de resistance?

DH: It's still not hunky-dory. Some said we should have acted earlier, others said we shouldn't have done anything. Now my successors can seize on that opportunity.


HoS: Is it an exaggeration to say WADA saved the lives of Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov, who exposed Russia's systemic doping regime?

DH: I've gone over Vitaly's statements. They were compelling but not corroborated by any source in athletics or elsewhere in Russia. We [WADA] had people meet him when he was out of the country. We were probably more scared than he was. If we had initially gone to the authorities, and the only ones we could have gone to were the Russians, we would have wrecked his life.

I wasn't prepared to take a step which could have resulted in someone disappearing. We had the opportunity to have him exposed in 2013 when looking at the Moscow anti-doping laboratory. We ran a disciplinary hearing and a panel, ironically chaired by [anti-doping crusader] Richard Pound. The lab received a suspended suspension allowing them to operate during the Sochi Olympics. We weren't in a position to appeal, only the lab could. Ironically that led to more evidence.

HoS: Did the prospect of an espionage conspiracy concern you among your ranks?

DH: We weren't so much worried about our people, but more the fact our communications might be hacked. We told members of our team to throw their computers away when returning from various parts of the world.

HoS: How much satisfaction did you derive from the movement to out Lance Armstrong?

DH: He gave us the middle finger for some time. It was exceptionally challenging because the IOC [International Olympic Committee] backed their own federation [cycling's UCI] and we fought public opinion which said Armstrong was a tremendous guy who gave money to cancer research, and therefore couldn't possibly cheat. We wore that until USADA said they were taking the inquiry. It was good to see justice prevail.

24 Jun, 2016 11:00am
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HoS: How important has the biological passport been as a preventative tool?

DH: That emerged after Floyd Landis cheated to win the Tour de France in 2006. We eventually negotiated with the UCI to set it up. The cheating uncovered in cycling has seen the passport used to good effect elsewhere.

It's not infallible. Like any rule or tax, people will pay a lot of money to try to get around it. My dream is for athletes to one day hold up passports as a way to say "I'm clean" through scientific means, rather than saying "I've never tested positive". Nobody believes that defence any more.

HoS: Operacion Puerto, the Spanish doping case which started in May 2006 against the now exonerated Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, remains unresolved. Could it still reveal an Armstrong situation en masse?

DH: We had a favourable decision come through the Spanish courts last week. I need it translated in full, but the blood bags seized as part of the investigation are now available to us. However, there's a lot to work through, like the statutes of limitations and whether we can name-and-shame them.

HoS: What's the Next Big Doping Threat?

DH: As a lawyer you're trained to anticipate what's coming and 'think like the bad guys'. New drugs are always under research and development. They can be stolen and tested on the black market. Shifting a couple of molecules can create new [undetectable] substances.

Avoiding detection is the other ongoing issue. Some athletes have urine ready for officers in clean bottles, others present it alongside brown envelopes which ensure samples are lost en route to the lab.

Many instances fit into the criminal category. We're not an enforcement agency so need links with the police, but must then ensure they're not corrupt. It bothers me that we rely on others' commitment and values.

HoS: You've spoken about doing all this on the equivalent of 'Wayne Rooney's salary'. How do you increase your annual budget from US$30 million?

DH: We get 50 per cent of our income from governments and 50 per cent through the IOC, who levy their membership bodies. I think it's an issue of control; bodies do not like an independent monitor looking at their programmes and saying they are non-compliant. One way is to secure a [sports integrity unit] levy from broadcasting rights holders, but it takes gutsy leadership to say that proposal has merit.

We don't get anything from US golf tour or their NFL, basketball, ice hockey or baseball leagues. I've gone to New York most years to talk to the powers-that-be. However, we've recently made inroads with baseball and their players' association. That's a significant push.

HoS: At times the job must have felt like fighting a forest fire with a water pistol?

DH: I started with a budget which would have kept the lights on for six weeks, until government commitments were better sorted. Initially we had 20 employees, many of whom we separated by internal silos. Now we have upwards of 70 including 35 nationalities and lots of languages spoken.

I tried to muck in and get on with it in a 'Kiwi way' rather than making the agency too hierarchical. As a lawyer, standing up for the little guy held me in good stead, and that's what I intend to return to. I'm going back to the [legal] bar in Wellington at the end of July.