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Mayweather/Pacquiao: An Interview with USADA’s Annie Skinner

by Hans Olson

Late last week, I interviewed the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s Keith Kizer to discuss the ongoing saga that is the Mayweather/Pacquiao super-fight. In Keith’s interview, we got a feel for the negotiation process, and the matters blocking the fight from happening. The main issue, is Olympic-Style drug testing. There are varying reports that Manny Pacquiao will or won’t accept testing. I reached out to USADA to discuss in detail what their organization is all about. Although representation declined a telephone interview, USADA’s Media Relations Manager Annie Skinner provided answers to my questions below. In simple terms, for fans who are unaware with USADA…can you outline in a few sentences how USADA differs from typical drug testing in sports?

Annie Skinner: The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is recognized by The U.S. Congress as the independent national anti-doping organization, for the Olympic movement in the United States. USADA’s mission is to preserve the integrity of competition, inspire true sport, and to protect the rights of athletes.

USADA is a signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code, as are more than 600 governments, international sport federations, national Olympic committees, national anti-doping organizations, and other sport organizations around the world. USADA is the entity responsible for executing the independent anti-doping program for the Olympic and Paralympic movement, including the more than 40 sports governed by the national governing bodies for each sport. Many professional sport organizations in the U.S., including state boxing commissions are not signatories to the WADA Code, which means they have not adopted the same level of internationally accepted standards and that they conduct their programs in-house rather than through an independent entity.

What’s important for fans to understand is that are many aspects that go into a quality drug testing program. Some important questions to ask when evaluating an anti-doping program include:

Is it conducted by an independent third party?

Education – Are athletes thoroughly educated about their rights and responsibilities prior to being tested?

Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) – How rigorous is the application process for receiving a medical exemption to use a prohibited substance? USADA adheres to the WADA international standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions.

The Test Plan – Who is being tested? When? Where? How often? In-competition, out-of-competition, or both? blood, urine or both? Are there cut-off dates? Are tests targeted and effective? Is there no advanced notice, testing? Or is advance notice provided to athletes as to when or where testing will occur? USADA’s testing plans are consistent with the WADA International Standard for Testing, and includes no-notice, out-of-competition testing.

Sample Collection Process – The process for notifying the athlete, collecting the actual sample, securing it, completing paperwork, and sending it to the lab. USADA adheres to the WADA International Standard for Testing.

Prohibited Substances – What substances and methods are considered prohibited? USADA adheres to the WADA Prohibited List, which is the international standard.

Sample Analysis – What caliber of lab does the testing commission send the samples to? What substances does the testing commission ask the lab to screen for? USADA only uses WADA-accredited labs which adhere to the WADA International Standard for Laboratories.

Adjudication and results management process – what happens when there is a positive test or other anti-doping rule violation. What is the sanction? What is the judicial process? Is an independent organization managing the results or could there be a perceived conflict of interest? Why do you feel that USADA is the best testing system for athletes? Along the same lines, does USADA have any room for improvement as it relates to its testing methods?

Annie Skinner: Clean athletes deserve an anti-doping program that most effectively detects and deters the use of performance enhancing drugs. We know that an independent program consistent with the WADA Code has the best chance to accomplish that.

When a drug testing program is managed by the sport, the organization is faced with at a minimum, a perceived conflict of interest in both policing and promoting their athletes. Every program must continue to innovate and evolve to best protect clean athletes, including USADA. This is primarily about boxing. USADA has overseen the past few Floyd Mayweather fights. Can you detail the testing methods, and how USADA views professional boxing, and in particular how the Mayweather Team is trailblazing testing in the sport?

Annie Skinner: The athletes participating in these bouts were subject in all ways to USADA’s anti-doping program. This included being in the registered testing pool, submitting whereabouts, taking mandatory educational programs and submitting to the testing process.Testing for these fights included blood and urine testing, both in and out of competition. Out-of-competition tests are unannounced, without advanced notice, and can occur at any time and at any location. Currently, professional boxing commissions in the United States are not signatories to the WADA Code. They do not collect blood, or conduct as rigorous an out-of-competition testing program, both of which are important pieces needed to conduct a thorough anti-doping program that protects the rights of clean athletes.

In the Olympic movement we have long seen athletes rise up and advocate for stronger anti-doping policies in their sports and those athletes have been the impetus for change. The integrity of the sport of boxing can only stand to gain from giving athletes a voice in anti-doping issues. What are the substances that USADA can detect that the testing of a normal commission, such as the Nevada State Athletic Commission cannot?

Annie Skinner: All samples collected by USADA, both blood and urine, are sent to a WADA accredited laboratory. Blood testing is the only way currently to detect the presence of certain substances like HGH, or synthetic hemoglobin, or to detect certain methods like homologous blood transfusions. The athletic commissions do not conduct blood testing, which means that certain substances, won’t be tested for by the commissions, because they cannot be detected in urine Can you explain the relationship between WADA and USADA? From what I understand, USADA and WADA both are under the same umbrella of testing?

Annie Skinner: USADA has a close relationship with The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) but it’s important to understand that the organizations have different functions. WADA is essentially the standards setting authority and is extremely influential in anti-doping issues globally. Their Code and standards are considered the basis for the strongest anti-doping programs in sport, and more than 600 organizations have chosen to adhere to those strict standards including USADA. While WADA has set the bar for anti-doping testing internationally, the organization itself does not carry out testing services that an anti-doping organization does. USADA is the national anti-doping organization (NADO) recognized by Congress that provides comprehensive anti-doping testing services. There have been many disputes in the media regarding the stance of Manny Pacquiao. Recently, his promoter Bob Arum suggested that Manny Pacquiao would accept testing, but while a portion of his training camp takes place in the Philippines, WADA would oversee everything. Is this a conflict of interest, or a commonality that shouldn’t be an issue?

Annie Skinner: USADA has the protocols in place to test an athlete who may be training or living for a period of time outside of the United States and regularly does so for U.S. athletes in the Olympic movement. If all parties agree to an anti-doping program conducted by USADA, the testing plan could be carried out regardless of an athlete’s location. Are there any differences at all between testing methods of WADA and USADA?

Again it’s important to understand that WADA does not provide testing services the way that USADA or a state boxing commission does. WADA sets standards and USADA’s testing program is consistent with those standards. Can anything be done about the cost of Olympic Style Drug testing to make it more universal in sports? A main issue is the cost of using USADA drug testing. It’s estimated that for testing fighters in a training camp, it can be as much as $80,000. Is that number accurate? If not, what is the accurate price?

Annie Skinner: The cost of a testing program varies depending on a variety of factors, but its cost pales in comparison to its value for clean athletes. We’ve said that you could add $1.00 “integrity in sport fee” to a single pay-per-view fight and be able to fund an anti-doping program for years.

The costs of a robust testing program is a drop in the bucket compared to the prize money that athletes involved in a fight may win, or the money that is earned by promoters, and those that televise these events. The costs are certainly not prohibitive. The benefits of implementing a thorough, WADA-accredited testing program for clean athletes, the integrity of the sport, and the health and safety of the competitors, far outweigh the cost. How easy is it for an athlete to use illegal substances without Olympic Style testing?

Annie Skinner: If a testing program does not include out-of-competition testing, comprehensive lab analysis, and blood collection, an athlete might find ways to take advantage of a program’s limitations without any fear of being caught. Additionally, when an athlete knows that they are guaranteed not to be tested during a certain time-frame, a smart doper can take advantage. Are there any other misconceptions you feel there are with Olympic Style testing?

Annie Skinner: Olympic-style testing refers to the gold standard anti-doping program outlined by the Code and International Standards as set forth by WADA, and that all Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes are subject to around the world. Fans should know that USADA’s primary goal is to protect the rights of athletes so they can be confident that any competition they participate in is clean, and that the outcome will be decided on who performed the best, not by who was taking the best drugs.

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