Irwin: Tennis, Track And Field Scandals Support Racing’s Path Toward Independent Oversight

by | 01.19.2016 | 9:52pm
USADA, an independent anti-doping organization, was called upon by the United States Olympic Committee to curb cheating in human athletics.

Unbeknownst to many people involved in the movement to eliminate drugs in racing, a couple of months ago I lessened my involvement because I had become discouraged with the progress of the proposed federal legislation sponsored by Congressmen Andy Barr and Paul Tonko.

Sparking my change in direction was an impassioned talk delivered by harness track owner Jeff Gural at the annual Stanley Bergstein Writing Award ceremony last November in Lexington. It came on the heels of a private meeting earlier that very same evening of Barr-Tonko legislative supporters that had gathered for an update.

Whereas the Barr-Tonko folks were bogged down in the inevitable struggle with the bill's opponents and the tangled web of politics in Washington, Gural explained how he had taken matters into his own hands as the private operator of The Meadowlands to rid his track of drug cheats.

Gural hired his own in-house investigator, an experienced law enforcement official who used his ingenuity and connections to liaise with other experienced policing veterans to set up a mechanism whereby cheats were identified and invited not to race at the track.

The difference between what the Barr-Tonko proponents aspired to do and what Gural had actually done in single-handed fashion was so stark that it caused me to halt in my tracks and explore a complete change in my personal direction.

I was frustrated with the lack of progress of our group. I wanted to make a difference in the war to eliminate drugs from racing and to stop horsemen from cheating by using performance enhancing drugs to alter the outcome of horse races.

I have been an unabashed supporter of having the United States Anti-Doping Agency placed in charge of drugs/medication in the sport of horse racing. Why wouldn't I? After all, I was the first guy that recommended the idea in print in an OP-Ed for The Blood-Horse way back when.

Shortly after a group of well-intentioned horsemen and women organized the grass roots movement named WHOA (Water Hay Oats Alliance), I lent my support. I worked with the founders to further their agenda of eliminating race day drugs from horses.

When a coalition was formed that included The Jockey Club and the Breeders' Cup, I joined in their effort to enlist new members that eventually would include Keeneland, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the CBA (commercial bloodstock consignors).

I went to Washington, D. C. to help inform politicians about the proposed legislation, I wrote OP-EDs, I made phone calls, I met with leaders of racing's alphabet soup organizations, I went to political fund raisers—all the stuff my peers in WHOA did to further our cause.

But I didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. So I privately channeled my efforts to see if I could make a difference. While I would like to see all race day drugs eliminated, my more overriding interest in the legislature effort was to have cheating with unknown and designer drugs stopped. I don't really care if Lasix is used or not used, but if given a choice, I would prefer to see it not used, because I am against all race-day drugs.

But I am infinitely more interested in the elimination of the use of illegal drugs. That is what I really care about.

After a couple of months of doing research, talking to state and federal officials, as well as regulators, veterinarians, stewards, racing board members, racing secretaries and private investigators, I have come to an incredibly disappointing conclusion.

I am sad to report that the interest of people in charge of halting the use of PEDs in American racing is virtually non-existent. This will come as absolutely no surprise to Mr. Joe Gorajec, the courageous regulator who lost his job because, in essence, he focused too much of his energies on catching and punishing cheaters in the state of Indiana.

And, in retrospect, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me, as last year I was told by a highly placed and nationally respected racing official from one of the leading racing jurisdictions in North America that no appetite to stop cheating with drugs existed at any level in his locale. I have known this official since I first came into racing and know him as a man of integrity and action, so when he uttered his pronouncement, I guess I should have taken it at face value.

Last week, I came to the irrefutable conclusion that even if I had been successful in my private quest to point out to racing officials which horsemen were cheating, what they were cheating with, when they were treating their horses, where they acquired their illegal drugs from—the whole ball of wax laid in their laps—that absolutely nothing was going to happen.

Over the weekend, the British Broadcasting Company and BuzzFeed News jointly released a report that authoritatively and convincingly showed that those charged with overseeing the sport of professional tennis had for several years allowed cheating to occur, even though they had been presented with evidence backing up the claims. The tennis authorities chose to maintain the status quo. It was a shocking and serious claim that figures to rock the sport to its very foundation and cause a serious loss of credibility.

The weekend's tennis news follows closely on the latest shocking reports of international track and field authorities that were aware of Russia hiding positive test results. In both instances, highly paid officials charged with overseeing and governing their sports not only ignored evidence of wrongdoing but participated in a cover up.

Based on my revelation that even if cheating is exposed to racing officials that nothing will happen, as well as this latest bombshell expose of professional tennis, I have come to one conclusion—and it is not a new one.

I now more firmly than ever believe that only USADA can make a difference in restoring the credibility of racing. The reason is that they will bring independence to a sport whose integrity is being held captive by industry insiders bent on maintaining things as they are and always have been.

So I am back in the fold and I will redouble my resolve to have meaningful legislation passed in hopes that USADA will be named by both houses of Congress to clean up the sport of horse racing before scandals and a total loss of our fan base occurs.

Barry Irwin is founder and chief executive officer of Team Valor International.

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