March 31, 2014
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The WADA Interview: Edwin Moses

Following his recent appointment as Chair of the Education Committee, WADA sat down with two-time American 400m hurdles Olympic Gold medalist Edwin Moses to hear his thoughts on anti-doping, and where he believes he can make an impact.

You were recently appointed Chair of WADA’s Education Committee - what does that appointment mean to you, and what can you achieve in the coming months and years?

EM: I've been involved in anti-doping as long as anyone, going back to the 1980’s. I have been very vocal on the subject throughout my career; that hasn't changed to this day. For the meantime, I hope to be able to learn more about the Education Committee, that's my immediate task; to figure out what the main issues are and then to use my experiences and perceptions to see how things could be improved.

It is, first and foremost, important to learn about the politics and discover who the main players are and, importantly,  what kind of issues have been on the table over the last couple of years.

 

How important a role does education play in informing athletes about the dangers and consequences of doping?

EM: It is important. You see it every time there is a major case involving an athlete and a substance that they were unaware of. Even in countries with education programs in place, there should be more due diligence done by the athletes; there are still too many cases in which an athlete pleads ignorance.  If this is still the case in some of the major countries, then it is going to be a problem in other parts of the world that do not have the same awareness of anti-doping.

We started education programs with the Olympic Committee back in 1989 - 1990 because we thought that it was the first line of defense and the most critical information to give to the athletes. Personally, I am surprised by the fact that 25 years on it still seems to be the one of the major stumbling blocks, not because the programs don't exist but because the athletes don't take advantage of the information available. There has to be a way to get them to understand that "this is your responsibility".

 

You say that 25 years on we still face problems despite the programs in place – is that because we are not finding the right solutions, or will this always be a problem we are faced with?

EM: A great part of the problem is the athletes themselves. If you are in a sport like my sport - track & field - and you're out there earning significant money and have people working with you such as physical therapists, masseurs and coaches, and you have access to electronic devices which can easily download all of the information instantly, then the case of pleading ignorance should not be as acceptable as it was during the pre-digital era when we had to circulate a piece of paper around the world. Athletes have to begin to take more responsibility because strict liability is a fundamental principle of the Code.

When I was an athlete I knew what things not to take, what things to be aware of, and there was nowhere near the level of supplements that there are today. Different types of supplements. Supplements that can be tainted, supplements with known illegal substances in them that you can buy over the counter, those things just did not exist.

 

Does the sheer number of supplements available today make it more difficult for an athlete?

EM: I think that athletes are making a mistake if they are trying to be aware of what is in every single substance. It is easier just to say "no". You just have to say "no" instead of taking the "I didn't know" approach. You cannot have it both ways.

 

Where does your interest in anti-doping come from? Was an anti-doping culture ingrained in you from the very start?

EM: The 1976 Olympics, here in Montreal. At that Games, I saw women competing that were more manly than me. I had never seen that before; the beards, the mustaches, the deep voices. The American team, especially the women, just got completely shut out during that Olympics, there was no contest. That's when it became apparent that if you took substances you could definitely win. Something had to be done.

I was fortunate. I was the only American man to win an individual gold medal in Montreal, in an individual track & field field. To win a single gold medal in one event would be unheard of today. I think between 1976 and the early 1980's I saw things evolve: more athletes began to experiment with drugs. It became common knowledge; the athletes used to talk about who was on ‘it’ now and you could see the differences in performance. I just never thought it was right. I think someone has to take responsibility for making sure that no one’s son or daughter starts using substances, anabolic steroids, growth hormones, whatever it is in order to dream of going to the Olympic Games or to be on an international team. I just think that is plain wrong.

 

Where do you think you have made an impact in anti-doping over the years?

EM: After the Ben Johnson scandal in 1988, in track & field in the United States there was a group of about six, seven or even more of us who began to design out-of-competition drug testing programs. There was only one other one that existed in the world at that time, which may have been in Germany, but we started with a blank piece of paper. As athletes, we got the approval to start it within an organization called The Athletic Congress (TAC). We designed, implemented, funded and operated the first significant out-of-competition program around 1989 or 1990. From there, the program was adopted by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and initially around 12 other federations because it was voluntary. I was the chairman of the committee that put the program together in track & field, which had an influence on me being named chairman of the Committee on Substance Abuse, Research and Education for the United States Olympic Committee. Where there was substance abuse, we did the research, the education and the testing, hiring the drug control officers and managing the whole process. That's how I got started.

 

When you see where we are today in anti-doping, how far do you think we have come?

EM: We foresaw an organization like WADA because of the way we had to do business at the time. For example, when I was the Chair of the USOC Committee on Substance Abuse, Research and Education, we had what we called "The Big Six” federations, all of their Executive Directors and committee members, as well as medical doctors and ethicists and a few outside people. The politics would be an obstacle, along with the difficulty of marketing and policing your own sport. We talked then - especially with Doctor Donald Catlin - about the fact that there needed to be a completely independent agency that did the same thing that we were doing. We were talking about this in the late 1980's, early 1990's.  I had been to labs all around the world, going back to Doctor Donike, in Germany, in 1982 - 1983. I was very vocal about anti-doping throughout my whole career, which didn’t make me too popular, as there were lots of athletes doing it [doping]!

 

Do you find athletes today are more vocal about anti-doping than they were in the 1970s and 1980s?

EM: I think it is still difficult for an athlete to be vocal about anti-doping. In some sports a culture of doping exists and it is extremely difficult to speak out against that. You would become persona non grata in your sport. It's like seeing a crime;  people don't want to be witnesses, they don't want to get involved. It's easier to say nothing, but they know what is going on.

 

Why do you think some athletes still go down the path of doping, today?

EM: There is more to it than just money. That was the original reason that we believed athletes would dope, but it is fame and fortune, too. By winning a couple of big competitions, all of a sudden you're talking about sponsorships, you're talking about social media, you can develop your own brand very, very quickly. The "ego" of it all and the kind of lifestyle that you can have because of all of that success – that is a reason. As a successful athlete, you have your own entourage, travel, and can be famous; it's like having your own reality TV show! All of that combined can be an overwhelming draw, especially if you do something that you see as innocuous that can have a serious effect on the outcome of the competition. I see the whole doping issue not so much as something that is punitive, but instead it is about maintaining the credibility of sport. Sometimes it is necessary to protect the athletes and the sports from themselves, when there would be no natural incentive to do so.

There is a conflict of interests. An innate conflict. The athletes need the federations, and the federations need the athletes. For financial reasons, some of the ethics will get left behind unless you have a strong leader at the top, or someone who really believes that the integrity of the sport is more important than maintaining the reputation of any one athlete or federation.