27 August 2015

The WADA Interview – Michael K. Gottlieb

Michael K. Gottlieb is the Assistant Deputy Director at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which advises the President of the United States on drug-policy issues and develops the National Drug Control Strategy. With more than a decade’s experience in the international sport movement, Gottlieb currently sits on WADA’s Foundation Board, Executive Committee, and Finance and Administration Committee.

Looking at your career in the international sport movement – where did your love of sport first come from?

MG: Sport has always played a significant role in my life. I was a multi-sport student-athlete growing up playing American football, basketball, and running track. I really enjoyed being physically active, part of a team, and the competitive nature of sport.  The importance of sport has stuck with me as an adult. Today, it is not so much about the competition as it is keeping fit and active by any and all means possible. I’ve long since traded my football helmet and shoulder pads for swim goggles, a bicycle and yoga mat.   

You are closely associated with the global anti-doping movement and WADA – from where does your commitment to clean sport stem?   

MG: From the perspective of an athlete, youth coach, and administrator, I appreciate the health benefits of sport as well as the important ethical lessons and positive values learned on the playing field. As a parent, I now observe first-hand the many important character building experiences gained by participating in sport. Doping is cheating and it fundamentally undermines all those worthwhile attributes and is why I am so passionate about promoting and preserving clean sport.       

How did you first get into the legal and policy side of public health and anti-doping?

MG: My first involvement in anti-doping can be attributed to good timing, actually.  I accepted a position at the ONDCP, and WADA and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) were in their formative stages.  The White House was creating a team to coordinate anti-doping efforts across our Government. My professional background was in public health law, having worked on drug, dietary supplement and tobacco control issues at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. My government thought the portfolio might be a good fit.  Fifteen years - and three U.S. and WADA Presidents later, I could not be happier or prouder of our accomplishments together in the anti-doping movement.      

You have worked for Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. How have those experiences differed in terms of your anti-doping portfolio?

MG: My experiences in all three Administrations have been more similar than might be expected. Each has been strongly supportive of ONDCP’s anti-doping efforts and our collaboration with WADA, USADA, and other public authorities. Congress has also been unwavering in its support. They’ve been generous with financial resources and took immediate action toward ratification of the UNESCO Convention. The doping issue has not been partisan or political. This broad based support has been a significant factor in the progress we have made domestically in the U.S., as well as our improved standing internationally on this issue. 

As Assistant Deputy Director at the ONDCP – what are your responsibilities in this role and how does that fit in with WADA’s work?

MG: The missions of ONDCP and WADA are complementary and provide great synergy for my work. ONDCP seeks to foster healthy individuals and safe communities by reducing drug use and its consequences. I help coordinate our Federal drug policy efforts with state and local entities. I also direct the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program, a USD 245 million nationwide grant program that facilitates cooperation and innovation among law enforcement and health agencies.  At the end of the day, my job is to develop strong and effective partnerships and programs to promote the health of communities. These responsibilities dovetail ideally with my anti-doping work. 

You sit on WADA’s Executive Committee, Foundation Board, and as one of only four governmental officials on WADA’s Finance and Administration Committee – what have you learnt during this time?

MG: I’ve learned that partnerships matter a great deal, especially in global sport. The progress we’ve achieved in anti-doping stems directly from working across disciplines and national borders. The diverse stakeholders in this movement share a common unifying goal, and that affords us a strong foundation to build upon together and learn from each other.  We are most successful when we keep our focus on the enormous responsibility we owe to clean athletes and to true sport.  

You’ve been selected to participate on WADA’s Independent Observer (IO) missions – do you believe that the IO program remains relevant?

MG: The IO program is as useful now as it was at its inception. Having an independent team of experts on-site to monitor all aspects of the event testing program plays a vital role in increasing the quality of testing as well as enhancing the confidence of athletes and the public in the transparency of the system. I appreciate that we are not able to “test our way to 100% clean sport.”  Much like we are unable to “arrest our way out of the drug abuse problem.” Intelligence-led investigations and non-analytical doping violations are critical to our efforts.  However, recent accounts clearly demonstrate that oversight and monitoring of sport bodies and public authorities across the stakeholder spectrum remains critical. The IO program is a unique tool in our arsenal, and I would like to see it expanded moving forward.           

You’ve had a close relationship with the United Nations on sporting issues – how instrumental do you think the UNESCO Convention against Doping in Sport has been, and what do you expect from this year’s Conference of Parties?

MG: I remember participating in the initial meeting of the UNESCO Convention drafting committee. We started with little more than a belief that doping in sport was a health matter that public authorities needed to elevate.  Many governments (outside of Europe, which possessed extensive regional expertise) were relatively new to the issue. We’ve come light years since that time; and, it will be most appropriate to recognize the progress at the upcoming Conference of Parties. However, there is still much work to undertake and now is not the time for complacency.  While the World Anti-Doping Code and our global anti-programs continue to improve, we must amplify our efforts in terms of measuring and reporting compliance in a meaningful and transparent manner. We also need to keep focused on the critical importance of scientific and medical research. The newly established research fund; whereby, the IOC partners with governments to provide dedicated funding to WADA, is an invaluable initiative that should be welcomed.

What do you make of the anti-doping programmes in other U.S. professional sports?

MG: While my office does not oversee the anti-doping efforts of the professional sport leagues, I am very aware of, and heartened by, the ongoing progress that has been made by the leagues.  We share the goal of promoting clean and healthy sport; and, we are more effective when we work together.  For instance, the partnership between the leagues, WADA, and USADA in the areas of research and education demonstrates the power of leveraging resources and collaboration for the benefit of the clean athlete.