Sponsors missing from action in war on doping: whistleblower
Send a link to a friend
[August 12, 2016]
By Mitch Phillips
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Doping in
athletics could be slashed overnight if sponsors showed any will to
eradicate it, according to Steve Magness, the coach who blew the
whistle on an elite Nike-sponsored athletics program but now feels
like a pariah in the sport as a result.
Doping scandals have torn athletics asunder over the last two years,
and are souring the mood at the Rio Games where some competitors
have been loudly booed, but Magness says there is an easy way to
make an immediate sea-change.
"I guarantee that if the sponsors said 'hey, we want to clean up the
sport', you could get rid of 70-80 percent of the problem right
there," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"If sponsors said 'we are never going to support anyone who tests
positive, never supporting coaches who have or have had athletes who
take drugs, never supporting agents who have supported drugged
athletes'... They could snap their fingers and that would eliminate
a huge part of the problem."
Magness says Nike in particular can make a big impact as the
dominant sponsor of U.S. athletics, by refusing to support athletes
who have ever tested positive. He criticized its backing of 2004
Olympic 100 meters champion Justin Gatlin, who has twice been banned
for doping and will line up at Rio.
Nike declined to comment for this article.
The company has shown some sensitivity to doping among those it
sponsors. It initially suspended its deal with Russian tennis star
Maria Sharapova in March after she tested positive for meldonium,
which she said she used to treat diabetes. Tennis authorities banned
her for two years in June, though it ruled the doping was
accidental. Nike has resumed her sponsorship.
Nike is also not alone in sponsoring athletes who have had positive
doping tests, depending on the circumstances.
The company has a unique role in U.S. athletics that goes well
beyond regular sports marketing. It funds the nation's most elite
training center, in Portland, Oregon, under a $460 million 26-year
sponsorship deal with US Track and Field.
FEELING LIKE A PARIAH
Magness was a leading coach and sports science expert for the Nike
Oregon Project (NOP), a camp designed primarily to develop U.S.
endurance athletes. The group boasts American Olympic silver
medalist Galen Rupp and Britain's multiple world and Olympic
champion Mo Farah among its members.
Magness said he left the role in 2012 by mutual consent. In June
2015, he accused NOP's lead coach and former multi-marathon
champion, Alberto Salazar, of violating anti-doping rules and
encouraging the use of legal medications for the treatment of asthma
and thyroid conditions to gain a performance advantage.
Salazar presented an 11,700-word response, addressing many of the
issues and questioning Magness's motives. Rupp and Farah have denied
taking performance-enhancing drugs.
[to top of second column]
"I will never permit doping. Oregon Project athletes must fully
comply with the WADA Code and IAAF Rules," Salazar wrote, referring
to the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Association of
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has been investigating the allegations
against Salazar but has yet to release a finding.
Last year, when approached about the issue, Nike issued a statement
saying: "We take the allegations very seriously as Nike does not
condone the use of performance-enhancing drugs in any manner. Both
Alberto and Galen have made their perspectives clear and fully
refute the allegations made against them."
Magness said he had become an outcast from U.S. athletics since
speaking out, once receiving abuse from fans on a visit to Eugene,
Oregon, the self-styled "TrackTown" that was awarded hosting rights
for the 2021 athletics world championships.
"I've kind of become a pariah for speaking out," he said.
"The first time I went to Eugene after the piece came out, numerous
fans came up saying things like 'why are you lying?', 'why are you
trying to ruin the sport?', etc."
"I will never be able to coach any athlete who gets a Nike
sponsorship and any athlete I coach will probably never get a Nike
sponsorship," he said.
Nike did not respond when asked to for comment on these allegations.
Adidas, the other major sponsor in track and field, ended its
sponsorship of American Tyson Gay, in Rio for the sprint relay, and
Briton Dwain Chambers after their positive tests.
"Each of the agreements with our athletes include a clear clause
which states that the agreement shall be terminated if the athlete
is found guilty of the possession or use of drugs," an Adidas
Asked about media reports that it planned to pull its long-term
multi-million-dollar sponsorship deal with the IAAF due to doping
concerns, Adidas said it was monitoring the situation.
IAAF President Sebastian Coe, speaking in Rio ahead of the start of
the athletics program on Friday, said he understood those concerns
but was confident they had been addressed.
"We've stabilized some of those sponsors who were clearly nervous
last year, and why wouldn't they have been?", Coe said.
(Additonal reporting by Gene Cherry and Emma Thomasson; Editing by
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.