USOC increases anti-doping funding by nearly 25 percent
The U.S. Olympic Committee approved a 24 percent funding increase to the country's anti-doping agency Thursday, choosing money over words in an effort to fix a worldwide system that CEO Scott Blackmun says is broken.
The USOC board approved the increase starting next year from $3.7 million to $4.6 million annually for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which is tasked with testing American Olympic athletes, along with foreigners who train and compete in the United States.
The money won't have much impact on Russia, which is the focal point of a doping crisis that threatens the country's participation in the Rio Games. Track's governing body has booted Russia's track team from the Olympics because of widespread doping throughout the country.
Decisions about individual athletes who are petitioning to compete are expected to be made starting this week. Meanwhile, an investigation into allegations of government-guided cheating at the Sochi Olympics is due out next month, and could impact other sports.
''To the extent evidence exists that other sports were involved, we'd hope those (international federations) would take action, too,'' Blackmun said.
Blackmun described most of the USOC's action in the anti-doping fight as ''behind the scenes.'' But the money part is one of the true, tangible moves the USOC could make.
''The idea at play here is that the system is broken,'' Blackmun said, reiterating comments he first made six weeks ago. ''The system needs to be fixed. This is a threat to the very meaning of the Olympic movement.''
The USOC and the federal government supply the bulk of USADA's money. The agency could always use more, of course, but the irony is that it runs one of the most robust testing systems in the world. For instance, it held athletes accountable in 2015 by using, among other tools, more than 6,900 out-of-competition tests.
''The past year has shown us just how important it is to maintain focus on the integrity of competition,'' USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. ''The USOC's investment in an independent anti-doping structure will go a long way toward the preservation of a level playing field here in the United States.''
The USOC walks a fine line, knowing it is one of 205 countries in the Olympic movement, but aware it has more influence than most.
Leaders at the World Anti-Doping Agency have been asking for more money so they can do more investigations and not simply be relegated to a rulemaking body. The International Olympic Committee has called for an anti-doping summit in 2017 to discuss changes.
''The sooner the better,'' USOC chairman Larry Probst said.
This marked the last USOC board meeting before the Rio Olympics. Alan Ashley, the chief of sport performance, said 299 of about 550 U.S. athletes had already punched their tickets to Brazil; the rest, including about 130 from track and field, will make it between Friday and mid-July.
They'll head to a country where concerns abound over the mosquito-borne Zika virus, the physical safety of the athletes and water quality for canoers, kayakers and others who have to compete in Rio's filth-strewn bays.
And yet, for every athlete - mostly golfers - who are choosing to stay away, there are dozens who will go.
''The burden of being great is too heavy,'' said sprinter English Gardner, who will try to qualify in the 100 and 200 meters at track trials over the upcoming week in Eugene, Oregon. ''There's no time to worry about mosquitoes. Just don't get hit.''
Asked if he could ensure every American athlete's safety in Rio de Janeiro, Blackmun said that, naturally, ''you can never be certain of a question like that.''
''Candidly, I'm not concerned about it, and I'm not concerned about it for my family,'' he said. ''It doesn't mean you don't take all the necessary precautions. But I'm excited to go, and every single member of my family is going with me.''
Notes: After more than a yearlong push, the USOC has the funding to officially start its Safe Sport operation next Jan. 1. ... In its effort to push diversity in the U.S. Olympic movement, the USOC will introduce a ''diversity scorecard'' to help itself and national governing bodies keep track of their hiring practices.