Human athletes and the integrity of sport were the subjects of a hearing of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, but the regulation of horse racing was raised during the question-and-answer period that followed the testimony of three witnesses, one of whom was Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
USADA is the independent non-governmental agency that would oversee horse racing's medication policies under the proposed Horseracing Integrity Act, legislation that had its own hearing before a U.S. House subcommittee on Jan. 28. Currently, USADA is the official anti-doping agency in the United States for the Olympics, Paralympic, Pan American and Parapan American sport.
In his prepared statement, Tygart said that the “most vital principle of an effective anti-doping system is that it must be free from the influence of sport governing bodies. … Since our founding in late 2000, we at USADA have advocated for a clear separation between those who promote sport and those who police it. To do so otherwise, we believe, is to encourage the fox to guard the henhouse. No matter how well intended it might begin, it simply does not work.”
Tygart was referring to human sports and at one point used the NCAA's oversight of drug testing of college athletes as an example of ineffective anti-doping efforts. But under questioning, he said the same philosophy applies to horse racing.
Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico was the first to bring horse racing into the conversation during the hearing. “We must protect both the jockeys who put their lives at risk every time they mount a horse that may be unsound and protect the welfare of the animals,” Udall said. “As to some of the proposals to reform the horse racing industry, I'm concerned some will not provide the independence necessary to really bring about genuinely needed reform. We have discussed the need to clean up this sport in the past.”
Udall then asked Tygart: “Should any legislation from Congress ensure that any anti-doping organization created is truly independent and not compromised of representatives from industries who currently profit from the status quo?”
Tygart replied: “Absolutely, it must be independent, from our standpoint and our experience. The USOPC (U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee), back in late 1999, in conjunction with some efforts here on the Hill on this committee specifically, put a stake in the ground and said, 'We're going to outsource and make it independent – meaning folks at USADA who serve on our board or are on our staff can have no financial interest, can't serve in any capacity for an organization that we provide services to. And I think that has been a game changer. And so I think it equally applies to horse racing and in any legislation from this committee or otherwise to ensure its independence.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked Tygart if he was interested in “extending the jurisdiction of your agency to include horse racing to prevent doping and substance in that sport.”
“We certainly support,,” Tygart replied, “whether it's horse racing or college sports, an independent model where anti-doping can by handled by a group that doesn't have pecuniary interest or otherwise in the outcome of the decisions is has to make, because that's not an effective way to handle it.”
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota asked Tygart how USADA's anti-doping programs have evolved.
Tygart responded: “Since 2014, we've obviously had to stay abreast of the new designer drugs that might be coming out, and doing everything we can – whether it's a SARMs (Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators), whether it's a peptide, growth hormone releasing factor. A lot of substances are coming in, unfortunately, from China and India that are not for human consumption here in the United States – we've got to stay ahead of that and ensure that our labs have testing for it.
“I'd say, No. 2, we've been able to really refine and hone in on what's known as our athlete biological passport, looking at an individual's testing over time, looking at their blood and urine markers and how that may be influenced by doping,” Tygart said. “A great common example is cholesterol, which you monitor over time to see what's affecting your body. You can make changes to ensure that you are staying healthy. But in our world, you can see results of whether someone's doping or not. That's a powerful tool looking at the person's own individual testing history.
“And third and final I think it is the ability to have whistleblowers come forward,” Tygart said. “In 2018 we had over 700 tips come in to us, and I think that's a direct result of the efforts in BALCO, Russia and the Lance Armstrong case, where it was information and those who wanted to take control and ownership of their culture in the sporting environment to come forward. And they trust now that there are independent organizations like us who are going to act responsibly and get to the bottom and hold those accountable who break the rules.”
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