Renee Anne Shirley: The two sides of Richard Pound

09 Feb 2016 Posted by
Renée Anne Shirley is an anti-doping advocate and management consultant who will be well-known to those of you who have followed her insights on Twitter over the last few months.  She previously served as the director of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission, and was the “whistleblower” who revealed the laxity of doping controls in the run-up to the London Olympics.  

She has unique insights into the world of anti-doping, having been on the front line as the WADA code was established, and I’ve been so impressed by some of the contributions she has made to the sports governance debate on Twitter that I sought her insights on anti-doping and the way forward back in November 2015 (an article well worth a read).  

Then a few weeks, back Tweeted that she’d love to share lengthier thoughts (Tweet ‘trains’ of 140 characters are, after all, limiting), I took her up on the offer and invited her to write anything at all for the site.

She graciously accepted, and produced an article she called the “Two Sides of Dick Pound”, who you’ll know as the man who chaired the Independent Commission into the IAAF’s doping scandal, and took it all the way to revealing how state-sponsored doping in Russia was covered up with bribery and collusion, but couldn’t quite commit to the final step, declaring the sport non-compliant with the IAAF code (though Russia, who did basically the same thing, were).

Below are Renée’s insights and thoughts on Dick Pound.



The Two Sides of Dick Pound

“Ebony and Ivory live together in perfect harmony

Side by side on my keyboard…” (Paul McCartney)

Paul McCartney must have been thinking about Dick Pound when he wrote the words of his hit single ‘Ebony and Ivory’.  Pound is the perfect example of a person of deep conviction who presents two seemingly incongruous faces to the world as he is both a staunch International Olympic Committee (IOC) insider and a committed anti-doping in sport advocate.


IOC Insider

A former Canadian swimmer who represented that country in the Olympics, Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games winning a Gold, two silvers and a bronze medal (and setting a Commonwealth record in the 110m freestyle) in the Perth 1962 edition of the latter, he moved on to become Secretary (1968) and then President of the Canadian Olympic Committee (1977-1982).

In 1978 he became a member of the IOC and served on its Executive Committee for 18 years.  He was a strong supporter of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, although they had a stormy relationship at times, particularly towards the end of Samaranch’s tenure.  He became a Vice President in 1987 (serving two 4-year terms from 1987-1991 and again from 1996-2000) and wheedled enormous power within the IOC during the 1980s and 1990s.

For over 20 years he was in charge of negotiating television rights and sponsorship deals, and was instrumental in establishing the Olympic Partner Program (TOP) which provides sponsors with exclusive worldwide marketing rights to the Summer, Winter & Youth Olympic Games.  A lawyer by profession, he was also in charge of the 1998 IOC Commission which investigated the Salt Lake City Olympic Bribery scandal (more on this below), and he assisted President Samaranch in the negotiations with North Korea over the Seoul 1988 Games.

He made an unsuccessful bid to become IOC President in 2001 following the retirement of Samaranch and upon Jacques Rogge assuming the position of IOC President, Pound resigned as the head of the IOC Marketing Commission (a position he had held from its inception).  He nevertheless retained his position as an IOC member and today he is one of its longest serving members and one of the most powerful voices within the organization.  For example, in 2002-2004 he chaired the Olympic Games Study Commission which prepared a report on ways in which to streamline the costs of Olympic Games.

With the change of leadership within the IOC and the election of Thomas Bach as IOC President in 2013, Pound was elevated in 2014 to the Chairmanship of the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS).  OBS serves as the host broadcaster for all Olympic Games, providing the global feed for every sport.

It is safe to say that Dick Pound is one of the most influential IOC members who never succeeded in being elected IOC President.  One of the reasons for this may have to do with the fact that Pound is a bit of a maverick.  While being the consummate insider he is also opinionated and outspoken.  He is not known for being particularly diplomatic, and is given to making controversial statements at times.  This has not always sat well with his colleagues, even though they respect his knowledge and commitment.

There have been suggestions that Juan Antonio Samaranch purposely set Pound up to fail (he had shown clear ambitions of wanting to become IOC President) by appointing him to lead the 1998 investigation into the Salt Lake City bribery scandal.  Pound had been a vocal critic when the scandal initially broke, earning the wrath of many fellow IOC members, and by the end of his investigation he had made many more enemies and forced the expulsion of 10 IOC members for “accepting gifts”.  It even  came to light that Samaranch himself had been hosted by members of the Salt Lake Bid Committee and received a Commemorative Browning Pistol.

When Pound was put in charge of the newly created World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999, and its headquarters located in Pound’s hometown of Montreal, Canada, many regarded this as a consolation prize, because the more diplomatic consensus builder, Belgian Jacques Rogge, had become the acknowledged favorite in the race to replace Samaranch when he stepped down as IOC President.

In any case, the voting skew within IOC membership is European-dominated with 57 of the IOC’s 110 members coming from Europe, which partially accounts for the fact that all IOC presidents, with the exception of American Avery Brundage, have been Europeans.


Anti-Doping Advocate

Throughout his tenure as an IOC member Pound has been a crusader in the fight against doping in sport.  He is someone who had seen the underbelly of the problem from his days as an Olympian and as a sports administrator (he famously fell foul of what I suppose can be called sports ‘gullibility’ or perhaps patriotic blindness when he vociferously defended Ben Johnson after THAT failed test in 1988.  He was, in fact, Johnson’s lawyer – Ross). Pound has very strong views which he is willing to state publicly, and this has often not been well-received by athletes, his IOC colleagues, International Federations, governments and others.

He was one of the driving forces in the IOC behind the creation of WADA and he makes no bones about the fact that both WADA and the World Anti-Doping Code (the CODE) were/are his pet projects.  During his tenure as WADA President he pushed and prodded to get the CODE accepted worldwide, while he continued to be extremely outspoken and controversial.

It seems as if Pound is always willing to state what he considers to be the unpalatable ‘truth,’ while many accuse him of running his mouth before there is verifiable evidence of wrong-doing.  It is this combative, hard-nosed, and opinionated stance on doping controversies in Olympic and non-Olympic sport that increasingly alienated many inside and outside both the IOC and WADA families.

For example, he was extremely critical of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the international federation in charge of cycling, with several public spats with the UCI and rider Lance Armstrong in particular.  USA Track & Field and the National Hockey League’s anti-doping program, and the anti-doping efforts in countries like Jamaica, Kenya and Russia are some of the others who have also incurred the wrath of Pound.

Matters between himself and Lance Armstrong got heated in 2005 when L’Equipe reported that some of frozen urine samples from the 1999 Tour de France which a French lab used in a research project to detect EPO included samples from Armstrong and that 6 of his 15 samples showed traces of EPO.  Pound called on Armstrong and other riders to explain how the EPO got into their systems.  The revelations led to the UCI setting up an enquiry, chaired by Emile Vrijman, former head of the Dutch National Anti-Doping Agency.  When the 135-page enquiry report was released Pound dismissed the report as “so lacking in professionalism and objectivity that it borders on farcical.”  

Pound went on the attack re USA Track and Field when it was struggling to deal with doping revelations at the start of the BALCO investigation in 2003/2004, prior to the start of the Athens 2004 Olympics.  A number of elite US athletes were being accused of doping or had received positive tests and 14 athletes were sanctioned by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).  Pound accused the USATF of engaging in a “conspiracy of silence” by not reporting to the IAAF that one of the members of the US men’s 4x400m Gold Medal team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jerome Young, had tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone a year before the start of the 2000 games.  Pound wrote to the IOC urging decisive action and calling for an investigation.

He said that “There is an extraordinary capacity for double-think in the US.  They delight in pointing the finger at everyone else and do not acknowledge there is a US problem.”  He also stated that “I think the leadership within USA Track and Field has been largely responsible for this problem getting as bad as it has, and they’re going to have to look very carefully at their own house.  I think that they have demonstrated over the past few years there is a very serious problem, and it is a sleazy thing.”

Many, in particular the US media, felt that Pound’s accusations were premature and should have been more tempered at the time.

He also was critical of the anti-doping program of the National Hockey League, a non-Olympic sport and a non-signatory to the CODE.  He claimed in November 2005 that around a third of hockey players were gaining “some pharmaceutical assistance.”  After vehement denials from the NHL and its players’ association and demands that Pound provide evidence substantiating his claim, he later admitted that he had invented the figure (see “The Scold”, an article by Michael Skolove in the New York Times, January 7, 2007).


Two Parts Equal the Whole

A closer look at Pound’s work and legacy shows that there are limits to the extent of Pound’s independent, feisty anti-doping stance or his rash comments that sometimes irk his IOC colleagues and others, and he subsequently has had to make an about-turn or tone down his position.  This includes his recent seeming about-turn when he declared Sebastian Coe as the person most suited to cleaning up the IAAF mess in the wake of the findings of the WADA appointed Independent Commission that he chaired.

Another memorable moment was when in August 2008 he enraged fellow Canadians and embarrassed the IOC when he was asked in French, as reported in La Presse (and subsequently in the National Post), whether the IOC was concerned about being affiliated with China and its recent political history, to which he responded: “We must not forget that 400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages, with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants of European origin, while in China, we’re talking about a 5,000-year-old civilization.”

The Aboriginal advocacy group LandInSights asked the IOC to suspend Pound for the remark and there were calls by others for him to step down as Chancellor of McGill University.  Pound later acknowledged that  it was a clumsy remark that was taken out of context and that in the particular French expression used, “un pays de sauvages”, the French sauvages was not equivalent to English “savages”.

Dick Pound is one who has positioned himself as the ultimate “ethics czar/judge” within the IOC and WADA, while he seems equally comfortable swimming within the corruption cesspool of Olympic sport.  But he himself was reprimanded by the IOC’s Ethics Committee in 2007 in response to an 8-page complaint from Lance Armstrong to IOC President Jacques Rogge.  The Ethics Committee urged Pound to exercise greater prudence in his public utterances.  Pound’s response was that he was accountable to WADA not the IOC.

Yet, as one of the key IOC people who created the TOP program and oversaw broadcasting rights negotiations (by far the largest revenue source for the IOC), Pound knows the art of compromise and negotiation, all aimed at ensuring that the Olympic Brand is protected, and creates world-wide spectacles every two years that put more money into the coffers of the IOC and makes its sponsors very happy indeed.

As the architect of the financial model for the modern-day Olympic Movement, Pound is the consummate insider, the wheeling and dealing negotiator, committed to getting the best sponsorship deals and TV rights for not just the IOC, but having the money filtering down to the National Olympic Committees and individual sports.  He is a defender of the commercial Olympic Brand and ensuring that nothing will derail the spectacle of the upcoming Rio2016 Games.

And back to the recent findings of Pound’s WADA Independent Committee Part Two Report looking into the Russian athletics scandal and IAAF’s role, it is clear to many of us that the actual findings point to the fact that the IAAF is non-compliant with its own rules and the WADA CODE.  But Pound and his fellow committee members stopped short of calling for WADA to declare IAAF non-compliant and impose sanctions as it did for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency and Moscow WADA-accredited Laboratory.

In regard to Pound’s seeming contradictory positions between his admiration for Seb Coe and the findings of his WADA Independent Commission, University of the Free State Prof. Ross Tucker in an interview with Sarah Barker in FITTISH suggests that “The IAAF is by far the most powerful organization in the Olympic Games.  The Games ARE athletics.  Swimming, gymnastics, yeah.  But the main stadium is built expressly for track and field.  Its tickets are most expensive, broadcast rights the highest.  It’s the cornerstone of the Games.  There’s no way the IOC family would allow this [IAAF] scandal to affect that.  Not in a million years.  The IAAF is too big to fail…”

“There’s astonishing hypocrisy, but the IAAF is too big to fall,” said Tucker. “And that’s what I think got into Dick Pound.  He took the audit 99% of the way, and maybe had intentions of going 100%, but he couldn’t take the final step because it threatened the very foundation of the fraternity.”

University of Colorado Prof. Roger Pielke, Jr. opined in his blog ‘The Least Thing’: “What is clear is that Dick Pound, the decorated senior statesman of international sport, is up to his ears in contradictions and now finds himself as the most vocal champion of an institution that he has found to be corrupt, unaccountable and suffering from poor governance.”

With regards to his anti-doping advocacy, critics of Pound note that he loves to bring attention to himself and what he is about, but that he is not necessarily measured or consistent when it comes to the positions that he takes and that the art of compromise that he shows in negotiating sponsorship and TV rights deals for the IOC doesn’t translate similarly into some of his dogmatic positions re doping in sport.

Washington Post columnist, Sally Jenkins wrote in 2004 “I detest Pound on principle as a hypocrite who attacks the easiest and most vulnerable targets he can find for the sake of his own advancement.  He should be summarily dislodged from his job for betraying his [then] chief responsibility as the head of WADA, to be measured and fair.  Personally, I find him utterly devoid of any real Olympic spirit or spirit of justice.  The Romans believed that the enforcement of an absolutely just law, without any regard for possible exceptions, resulted in absolute injustice.”

Love him or hate him, Dick Pound is a hard man to ignore as he walks confidently in the corridors of the IOC and as the outspoken doyen of the anti-doping in sport movement.

Two sides of the man working in harmony that makes up the complex, fascinating, contradictory personality that is Richard ‘Dick’ Pound.

Renée Anne Shirley, 8 February 2016