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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

DOPED: Looks at Sports' Anti-Doping Underworld

When world-class athletes suit up for competition in the Year 2015, is it just too much to expect an even playing field and the proper enforcement of the rules of their games?

Whether it is the integrity of the “game” officials or the competency of the “table” officials, such as the game timer and official scorer, the proper enforcement of the playing rules is always at the very foundation of sport. However, the findings of a new sports documentary, DOPED: The Dirty Side of Sports, clearly has surfaced the fact that the very foundation of sports as it relates to drug-testing is surely broken.

“We looked at what sports organizations are out there that say they are serving the interest of athletes but maybe aren’t doing their best to hold up their end of the bargain,” said Andrew Muscato, the producer and director of the documentary that premiered on premium tv channel EPIX on September 30.

“The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) came to mind, since there was some ‘grumbling’ which questioned how effective were these rules, were they working and what say, if any, do athletes have in making these rules? We’ve all seen documentaries going after the athletes who have ‘doped,’ whether it be on Lance Armstrong or countless ’30-for-30s,’ but nobody has looked at the other side of this, looking at the people who are going after the athletes who supposedly have ‘doped.’ That was our main objective,” said Muscato.

Similar to his work exposing the NCAA in the 2013 sports documentary “SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports,” Muscato and his production team which includes the controversial former MLB manager and current Sacred Heart University (Connecticut) athletic director turned executive producer Bobby Valentine, “DOPED” is a no-nonsense and factual telling of the world behind the anti-doping establishment in sports, both on the world level through WADA and via the United States’ efforts by way of USADA.

DOPED quickly exposed the ground rules or basic “modus operandi” of WADA by having NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith tell of his first-hand experience when he sought some simple answers to questions he had as a representative of the athletes of the National Football League, which were being pressured to adopt what WADA and USADA officials referred to as the “gold standard” of drug testing.

“A contingent from the NFLPA went up to Montreal to meet with WADA, as DeMaurice Smith says in the film, and they were dismayed at the attitude of WADA in the fact that the NFL players were questioning the validity of the tests. The NFL players had some issues with the lack of transparency by WADA,” noted Muscato.

"The policies used in sports for the war on performance enhancing drugs overreach and underperform," said Muscato on the documentary. "Clean athletes are not only being harmed by these rules, but they have no say in how to improve what's clearly a broken system. In order for a global gold standard to truly work, athletes should be a bigger part of the process and that is how we can get to a better and more amicable solution for all."

Among the more interesting and lesser known points made in the documentary is the account of Olympic track and field star Adam Nelson, an American who was awarded the gold medal for the 2004 Olympic shot put on May 30, 2013, nearly a decade after the fact. Nelson’s 2004 silver medal was elevated to a gold after the IOC authorized re-testing of urine samples taken from Ukrainian Yuriy Bilonog. The tests were botched by WADA in 2004, and showed traces of Performance Enhancing Drugs when they were re-tested in 2013. The result for Nelson in between ’04 and ’13 was a severe loss of income, sponsorship and the ability to fund his training and competitions in the waning years.

 “Adam has a line in the film, that ‘they expect the athletes to be right 100-percent of the time,’ said Muscato. “The anti-doping agencies don’t have to be right 100-percent of the time and nobody pays much mind of that fact.”

“It’s been a decade since many of the rules for anti-doping were codified,” said Muscato, “so isn’t it time to review the rules to see what’s working and what is not?”

“It goes back to an inherit conflict of interest,” said the producer. “WADA likes to say they are an independent body, but they’re not, because of where their funding comes from.

“The only people who want true, clean sport are the athletes who don’t dope. But because of human error and, maybe, some political interests, not everybody is going to be following the same rules.”

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