Graeme Steel has resigned as chief executive of Drug-Free Sport New Zealand, ending close to 30 years in the role.

He will leave his post with drugs right back at the top of the sporting agenda, following the revelations of state-sponsored doping in Russia prior to the Rio Olympics last year.

Steel, 61, said the organisation needed to change how it engaged with stakeholders and "fresh impetus" was required.

He is not going quietly, however. In a wide-ranging interview with the Herald, Steel said the anti-doping movement was at a critical juncture.


"It's interesting, particularly with what's happened in Russian and the response, which is along the lines of: Is Wada (the World Anti-Doping Agency) doing the job it is supposed to? I've been in the middle of a group of [national anti-doping organisations] who are saying the whole anti-doping thing needs to change conceptually.

"We can't have sports with their own interests also running anti-doping programmes because they are forever conflicted. There is a whole lot of stuff we think needs to change to improve the way we respond to doping. Which is not to say Wada hasn't done a good job, but it's time to reconfigure it.

"Sporting organisations and governments to a lesser extent need to say, 'This is critical to us and we need to invest in it, but we can't be involved in the delivery of it,' as they were in Russia."

Steel said that if every country signed up to such independent oversight, no one would have any grounds for complaint - even if a report was delivered two weeks before an Olympics implicating an entire nation in cheating (which effectively happened to Russia just before Rio).

"It's better than them railing against Wada and saying, 'Waah, it's unfair, you haven't given us time to sort it out'."

The mild-mannered Steel was critical of the New Zealand Olympic Committee's response to the Russian controversy. The NZOC backed the tepid response of the International Olympic Committee, who left it up to individual sporting organisations as to whether they allowed Russians to compete.

"I thought they should have reflected better where we as New Zealanders stand," Steel said. "They needed to say this doesn't fit with us."

It stuck in Steel's craw that secretary-general Kereyn Smith and president Mike Stanley, who he rates highly as administrators, adhered rigidly to the party line.

"They could have said we were committed to the IOC cause but we think they've got this wrong."

One of the reasons Steel is leaving is because it is time for someone with a different face to re-engage with the various sport CEOs and athletes, who he wants to take greater ownership of anti-doping.

"The CEOs of sports are critical because they are the ones that will give the lead. We don't have a lot of trouble getting compliance from sports but what we need more of is proactivity," he said.

While it has been advantageous that the government, in this case largely represented by through Sport New Zealand, has largely left DFSNZ to its own devices, it has also created a disconnect.

"The government has been able to wash their hands of it and say, 'It's up to them, we don't need to engage,' but that's not quite right. If we're going to preserve a clean sport culture we need to be much more engaged and that's the whole sporting community."
Where the government or sporting organisations have no role, said Steel, was in the delivery of testing programmes.

Steel, who played volleyball for New Zealand for 13 years, came to the role via the NZOC in 1988. Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson's urine had just gone radioactive and Auckland was due to host the Commonwealth Games two years later. A testing programme was planned that year and rolled out the next.

On the recommendation of a government taskforce under the leadership of Sir Ron Scott, the organisation moved to Auckland and became an independent body in 1994. Steel has led from the front every step of the way.

Chairman of DFSNZ Warwick Gendall QC said that Steel 's contribution to every sporting code and to all who play or love sport in New Zealand has been immense.

"Through his efforts, dedication and constant concern for the well being of athletes over many years, we in New Zealand have built up and enjoy an international reputation as a 'clean' sporting country whose athletes and teams can be trusted and respected for their integrity and honesty."

The board will seek a replacement for Steel in the next couple of months and he is expected to leave the job in the middle of the year.