January will see a changing of the guard at the World Anti-Doping Agency. Dick Pound, the first and only President of WADA will be replaced by John Fahey, former Finance Minister of Australia. Last week the Globe & Mail ran a retrospective of Pound's controversial career ("The most hated man in sports). The article highlights how controversial Pound's tenure has been. To many in professional sports he is an arrogant and irresponsible blowhard more interested in building his own profile and his empire than in really solving the doping problem.
I have to say that much of the time I've held the same opinion. Pound frequently went beyond being outspoken. At times his statements were outlandish, even bordering on libellous (at one point he said that about a third of NHL players took performance enhancing drugs, an number he later admitted he just made up on the spot).
As a cycling fan, I've also hated Pound for his seemingly singular and relentless focus on professional cycling for most of his tenure. As an amateur triathelete and cyclist for over 20 years, I've been close enough to the sport to know that doping has been part of cycling for at least 50 years. But I also knew that doping was also at least as prevalent in other professional sports (I can remember hearing stories about Ben Johnson long before his positive test in Seoul).
His personal crusade against cycling lead (either directly or indirectly) to the demise of some of my favourite riders (Marco Pantani, Ivan Basso, Jan Ulrich...) and I hated him for that. Even as cycling struggles to solve it's doping problems he has been unrelenting. I hate him for that as well.
But the truth is that as the truth has slowly and painfully been drawn out from the old guard of cycling, the extent of the doping may even go beyond what Pound had imagined. Cycling really had become morally bankrupt, willing to support the doping as long as the spectacle continued to draw in fans and sponsors. Now, finally, cycling may be well on the road to recovery. And maybe now riders like Canada's Mike Barry and Svein Tuft, who have been handicapped for most of their careers, will be able to compete on the world stage.
For that I love Dick Pound. And for clearing the way for future cyclists who (hopefully) won't feel that they must dope in order to compete. In the past year or so Pound has turned his attention to other professional sports, Major League Baseball and the NFL in particular. And this already seems to be having some impact (White House official criticizes professional leagues for doping policies). Maybe these leagues too will clean themselves up and send the right message to young athletes with dreams of playing pro football or baseball. Given the extent to which doping has infected college and high school sports in North America, let's hope so.
So here's to you Dick. We love you. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.