In this opinion piece, I'll wrap up the past week's look at age-group drug testing. Maybe we can see a way forward and, perhaps, prevail upon those charged with keeping our sport clean to consider some ideas not currently on their radar.
I'd like to present this as sort of a stream of consciousness manifesto: a set of bullet points that just strike me as appropriate or notable.
Let us test
Most Slowtwitchers —75 percent—believe we should be drug testing age-group racers now. Only 16 percent think we should not under any circumstances test age-group racers. One can argue whether the Slowtwitch population of readers intersects exactly, or closely, or not at all, with USAT's population of members. Still, I find it hard to believe that if 84 percent of our readers think testing is good, that anything less than a majority of USAT members would hold this view.
If Slowtwitchers do veer from USAT's demographic, it's toward long distance racing. Our readers are overwhelmingly interested in races over the 70.3 distance and up. It's clear, then, that our readers also want WTC to age-group test.
Let us be good consumers
For AG drug testing, it would be helpful if there was a game in town in addition to USADA. America's anti-doping agency only owns its monopoly when it comes to Olympic sports. Plenty of corporations and groups contract directly with anti-doping labs, WADA labs among them, and these labs test for the presence of the drugs that the customer specifies.
Let's face it: USADA is simply a vendor to USADA and, for that matter, to WTC. USAT pays for every age-group test, likewise WTC. If USADA isn't wiling or able to scale down its age-group panel to include only core performance enhancers—scaling down the price for each test accordingly—should USAT or WTC consider dealing directly with one or more labs, for AG testing? Maybe so. It could still do business with USADA for pro athlete testing.
It's not as simple as this. There are some mechanical problems. Still, I have an idea in my mind's eye how it might work.
It's not inappropriate to ask USADA to consider our needs
Because USADA is simply a vendor to USAT for AG drug testing, why should it not be expected to act like any other vendor? Why is it unseemly to ask it to work to get our business? Should it not be expected to demonstrate to USAT and WTC that it's done its homework and is prepared to test 60- and 70-year old men and women? Should it not be asked to provide us with an example of how it's a self-correcting organization, if we're going to grant it a monopoly over all of triathlon's testing, not subject to market forces? Should it not be willing to scale down its panel, so that it can provide more tests for the USAT/WTC dollar? Is it outrageous for us to ask it to go back to WADA and present our sport's case that USADA should be willing to test for a scaled down, and therefore cheaper and fairer, list of performance enhancers, at least for AGers?
Let our anti-doping be that only, and not social engineering
USAT and USADA should not be in the business of forcing age-group triathletes to conform to a social standard that it decides is appropriate. It should test for performance enhancers. Cannibis may be a performance enhancer at a hot dog eating contest, but not at a triathlon.
Athletes should seek all information at their disposal
Athletes should know that several organizations manage the TUE process for older age-group racers. Both WTC and USADA will evaluate TUEs for age-group triathletes. So, for that matter, can the ITU. Call each on the telephone, talk to each, ask your questions about your specific case. If any of them refers you to another organization, please let me know. Each has a person tasked to take your phone call and deal with your issue, it's part of what you pay for; having your questions answered is your reasonable expectation.
Let us exercise discretion where discretion is warranted
The more I study this issue, the more convinced I am that little good can come from publicly naming a ban on an age-group athlete. Issuing a ban? Yes. Outing the sanctioned athlete? Yes, if he or she is a pro. No, if we're talking about an age-group athlete.
Why? Because the age-group athlete isn't, and won't be, and shouldn't have to be, on average, as vigilant about what he or she ingests as does somebody who does this sport as a living. Most positives, according to the attorney who most often represents athletes, are the result of cross-contamination, or mistakes that—while warranting some sort of punishment—may not rise to the level of intentional cheating.
Furthermore, as we have seen, USAT is bare, and shoulders the risk alone, should an AG athlete flle suit against it for a decision USADA makes (What would be the basis for such a suit? USAT decided—it was not forced—to engage USADA to drug test its membership. Does this make USAT liable, or is this even actionable? I don't know, but, if this has never been tested in civil court, does anybody really know?). USADA's CEO correctly points out that no suit has ever been filed in USADA's 11 years of existence. Still, how many tests of age-group athletes has USADA ever carried out? How many adverse findings has it generated? I suspect the sample set is still very small, and, while USADA dismisses the risk as essentially zero, it's no skin off USADA's teeth to downplay a risk that my intuition tells me is higher than USADA warrants it to be.
Our sport, in the U.S., needs to consider pooling its resources
Look, there's a very good financial reason why USADA uses its money to test at precisely zero Ironman races: Why would USADA give away a free product when it knows WTC is going to pay for it? Furthermore, any WTC race USADA tests at on its dime is an Olympic-style race USADA can't test at. I don't blame USADA.
Still, if both WTC and USAT are going to work together to keep triathlon free of drugs—in both the AG and pro ranks—what bad thing can happen if they pool their resources, and their dollars, and approach USADA with a package deal that includes in- and out-of-competition testing throughout triathlon's landscape? USAT ought to be willing to do this, because a lot of its resources are generated at WTC races—such resources having almost no offsetting costs, since WTC trains its own marshals, marshals its own races, and so forth.
Then there is that large list of races that are neither WTC nor Olympic that need drug testing. Those RDs need to throw some nickels into the pot, join with Ironman and USAT, and urge USADA to match this incremental revenue to USADA with some of USADA's own purse.
If USADA signals it's an eager and good faith partner in a much expanded anti-doping effort in triathlon, it would be good for all sides. But if the sport of triathlon thinks the testing of its AG athletes requires some of what I've written above, USADA would have to alter its current approach, and come our way a little. Would it? I have not seen any interest yet on USADA's part to alter its product at all, should triathlon ask for any of the above, even though I see no reason USADA is obliged—under the WADA code—to treat AG athletes as it does pro athletes, since WADA's mandate is specific to Olympic athletes.
Should USADA choose not to tailor its product in a way our sport considers most appropriate, triathlon might consider—as a sport, an industry, and a group of competitors—looking at an alternate drug-testing paradigm and a source of funding to pay for it.