LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Golfers who are policed by an anti-doping code on the PGA Tour that is viewed by critics as too opaque will have to adapt to a much more transparent program if they qualify to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Unlike the International Golf Federation (IGF), which will administer golf’s reappearance as an Olympic sport after an absence of more than a century, the PGA Tour is not a signatory to the code implemented by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Consequently, players who hope to represent their countries at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games will have to be educated on the significant differences between the PGA Tour’s policy and its prohibited list of substances versus that promulgated by WADA.
“What’s going to be key is a full understanding of the differences, how that impacts a clean player and making sure a clean player has an opportunity to be successful,” United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart told Reuters.
”The WADA code has things like the beta-2s (agonists that are used to treat asthma and other pulmonary disorders) that are going to be different than what the current (PGA Tour) list looks like.
“So we are going to have a full and fruitful opportunity to educate those athletes that may fall under our jurisdiction, just like we do with the NBA (National Basketball Association) players who come in to play in the Olympics.”
That ‘schooling’ of players bidding to make it to Rio for the 2016 Games will not be restricted to the United States.
“The IGF is already working with the Tours (PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA etc) to educate players on the IGF anti-doping policy,” an IGF spokesman told Reuters. “This activity will continue and increase as we get closer to Rio 2016.”
Almost 70 percent of USADA’s drug testing is conducted out-of-competition and requires athletes to notify their whereabouts on a daily basis, something PGA Tour players have never been required to do.
“All those players, in the U.S. at least, are going to fall under the USADA program going into Rio,” said Tygart.
”And 67 percent of our testing, on an annual basis, is done out-of-competition and that means athletes provide us with details of where they are going to be so that we can locate them for testing.
“I’ve seen golfers saying they haven’t been tested out-of-competition or they haven’t had blood testing, so there are some key differences between the codes but none of them are insurmountable.”
Perhaps the biggest difference between the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy and the more established one set forth by WADA relates to transparency.
USADA, responsible for implementing WADA’s code in the U.S., prides itself on independence and transparency while the PGA Tour is alone among the major North American professional sports bodies in not disclosing fines or suspensions for conduct.
In the event of a positive doping test, the PGA Tour says it will disclose details after the entire appeals and challenges process is completed, though it is not required to do so in cases involving ‘Drugs of Abuse’, so-called recreational drugs.
Asked how the PGA Tour responded to suggestions that it fall in line with the other major professional sports leagues and become fully transparent, executive vice-president Ty Votaw told Reuters: ”These ‘suggestions’ are nothing new and our responses to those suggestions have been consistent.
“We are comfortable with how we handle performance enhancing drug violations versus substances of abuse.”
Since the PGA Tour launched its anti-doping program in 2008, only one player has been suspended for a violation, American journeyman Doug Barron who was banned for a year in November 2009 for taking a performance-enhancing drug.
Matt Every was suspended by the PGA Tour for three months during his rookie season in 2010, but that was for conduct unbecoming a professional after he and two others were arrested on misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession in Iowa.
The charges were later dropped but the PGA Tour suspension, which was announced by Every’s management company, remained in place.
Golf appears to be largely unaffected by performance-enhancing drugs where it is difficult to view any advantage that might be gained, but there had been widespread calls for the sport’s governing bodies to put drug testing in place.
The National Center for Drug Free Sport administers testing on the PGA Tour virtually every week of the season with all samples analyzed by WADA-accredited laboratories.
Perhaps the brightest spotlight on the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy was cast, inadvertently, in July when big-hitting American Dustin Johnson announced that he had taken a leave of absence from golf to seek help for “personal challenges”.
Rumors immediately swirled about Johnson’s lifestyle, prompted by a Golf.com article that, citing an unnamed source, alleged that the American had been suspended by the tour for six months after a third failed drug test, and a second for cocaine.
The PGA Tour, which had initially issued a statement saying it did not comment on rumors or speculation, released another statement a few hours later saying that Johnson had taken a voluntary leave of absence and had not been suspended.
Commissioner Tim Finchem has repeatedly outlined over the years the reasons why the PGA Tour opts not to disclose details of fines and suspensions.
”One, we don’t feel like people really care that much,“ Finchem said. ”We don’t get emails from fans saying, ‘Why don’t you tell us.’ So we don’t think there’s this hunger for that information.
”Two, candidly, we don’t have that much of it, and we don’t want to remind people about it.
“If we had a problem of any magnitude, if we had a conduct problem, if we were faced with any significant issues where a player is not showing integrity or respect for the game, we might have a very different attitude.”
For USADA chief Tygart, transparency is a prized commodity in the world of anti-doping.
“USADA was founded on independence and transparency and we think that’s a core principle of why we exist,” he said.
”It completely ends rumor and speculation and it provides a significant deterrent for current players and also future generations of players when they see if an athlete cheats, the rules apply regardless of the stature of that athlete.
“From our end, you can’t replace independence and transparency. It’s one of the critical elements of having an overall effective program and it’s why the WADA code requires disclosure of positive cases at the appropriate time.”
Editing by Frank Pingue