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Pound of prevention

WADA chairman is not afraid to speak up

MONTREAL -- Dick Pound rises gingerly from the chair in his law office on boulevard Rene-Levesque and shakes hands with a mid-afternoon visitor.

"It's my back, from the flight back from Beijing," he says, wincing. "When I got on, I was 6-2. When I got off, I was 5-4."

After all the globetrotting he's done over the last four decades, it's a wonder Pound hasn't been reduced to HO-scale by now. His Olympic duties have taken him to all six continents, from Seoul to Sydney to Montevideo to Dakar to Prague to Los Angeles. These days, though, he usually can be found in the city where he wears most of his hats: partner in the law firm Stikeman Elliott, chancellor at McGill University, and, most notably, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Though the 64-year-old Pound has been involved in global sports for nearly half a century, he's made the most headlines during the past seven years as the outspoken foe of performance-enhancing drugs.

It was Pound who called home run king Mark McGwire a "souped-up hero." It was Pound who said this year that cycling's image was "in the toilet." Pound who dismissed baseball's five-strikes-you're-out testing program as preposterous. Pound who reckoned that as many as a third of professional hockey players were on drugs.

"He's ripped the veil off the big dirty secret," says David D'Alessandro, the former chairman and chief executive of Olympic sponsor John Hancock.

And that has made Pound hugely unpopular in certain sporting precincts. Pat McQuaid, who heads the international cycling federation, claims Pound is killing his sport.

"The sooner he is replaced, the better," McQuaid declared last month. "His attitude is just unacceptable."

Lance Armstrong, history's greatest cyclist, called Pound "a recidivist violator of ethical standards."

The NHL still is steaming about what Pound said last winter.

"He didn't have the right to make that kind of statement when people's lives and livelihoods are at stake," says NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. "It's irresponsible."

Not that Pound was anticipating fruit baskets. Deniers are paid to deny, he counters, and spinners are paid to spin.

"I'm more than happy," he says, "to be known by the enemies I've made."

Most of the outrage has come from the US-based professional leagues, which is what Pound expected.

"Their rock is being turned over and there's a lot of resistance to that," he says, "because there was a pretty chummy relationship they had with the public and with a good percentage of the media, where they were taking all this prepackaged fluff and accepting it as gospel."

Doing the dirty work
Doping in sports is an old story. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where Pound swam for Canada as an 18-year-old collegian, a Danish cyclist died after using drugs. The East German juggernaut of the '70s and '80s ran on steroids. China's swimming team in the '90s was juiced.

When the tests began coming up negative, Pound figured the cheaters had found undetectable stuff. It didn't make sense to him that the amateurs would be dirty and the pros wouldn't be. But since the pros tested halfheartedly and haphazardly, if at all, they were presumed clean, which made Pound shake his head in disbelief.

"If I heard [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman say one more time that there was nothing on the WADA list that would help a National Hockey League player and we don't need testing, I was going to puke," he says.

Those who've known him a while say that was simply Pound being Pound -- candid and beyond.

"There's never a time in Dick's presence when you feel you're being spun or hustled," says Dick Ebersol , NBC Universal Sports and Olympics chairman. "His greatest gift is that you know you're always getting the straight answer. The flip side is, he doesn't have a governor on any part of his personality."

The sports doping world, where virtually every drugged athlete points the finger elsewhere when caught, is a place of deception, evasion, and fog. Which is why Pound isn't shy about calling out cheaters.

"I deliberately try to provoke these reactions and to make it visceral," he acknowledges.

Pound speaks English and French and doesn't use many qualifiers or modifiers.

"There's no question he's outspoken," says Dr. Gary Wadler, a clinical associate professor at New York University's School of Medicine and a doping expert. "He says what he thinks."

Pound always has. When he headed the Canadian Olympic Committee, he vigorously opposed ("over my dead body") his country joining the US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games. Even as a junior member of the International Olympic Committee, he wasn't bashful about telling president Juan Antonio Samaranch what he thought needed to be fixed. "Either he's going to learn not to ask me things," Pound said, "or when he asks, he's going to get answers."

Pound quickly became Samaranch's go-to guy for challenging or unpleasant tasks.

"I was a young guy, totally different background, different generation, rough around the edges," Pound says. "It was, you do it, you run with it."

It was Pound who negotiated the TV rights fees and the sponsorship packages, adding billions to the IOC's coffers.

"Samaranch opened the door," says D'Alessandro, who worked with Pound for a decade and calls him "one of the 10 smartest men I've ever met." "It was Dick who drove the truck of money through."

And when the Lords of the Rings found themselves mired in the Salt Lake City bidding scandal, it was Pound whom Samaranch named to lead the IOC's internal inquiry, which eventually led to the resignation or expulsion of 10 members.

"Every organization needs a giant like Dick Pound who works like a horse," says Ebersol, "and does it because it's the right thing to do."

Grilling his colleagues was a no-win position for Pound.

"Organizations like to be perceived as clean, but they don't like the cleaners," he says. "David told me, 'You realize you're screwed if you ever want to be president.' I said, 'Maybe, but we've got to do this or there won't be anything to be president of.' "

Pound had heard rumors about members accepting lavish gifts and expense-paid junkets to bid cities eager to win votes.

Still, the corruption -- college tuition, cosmetic surgery, sweetheart land deals, payoffs, prostitutes -- stunned him. "The scale of it was astonishing," Pound says.

Pound played his role as chief investigator straight down the middle and his colleagues agreed overwhelmingly to kick out the wrongdoers and adopt radical reforms. But when Pound bid for the presidency two years later (what he calls "my brilliant but suicidal run"), they voted him third behind Jacques Rogge (for whom Samaranch openly lobbied) and Kim Un Yong, who'd narrowly missed being expelled and who later served jail time in South Korea for bribery and embezzlement.

The doping challenge
The defeat (especially finishing behind the crooked Kim) was disappointing, but Pound also felt relieved. Winning the presidency would have meant moving to IOC headquarters in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

"Giving up Montreal, giving up the practice of law was not something that I looked forward to," he says.

Now, he was free to do as much or as little Olympic work as he wanted. Pound already was wearing his McGill chancellor's robe. He was writing and editing books ("Inside Dope," his latest, was just published). He had his tax law practice. But there was still room on his overfilled plate.

"I find all this energizing," Pound says. "If I sat here and did nothing but law, day after day after week after week after month after month, I'd kill myself."

The biggest five-ringed challenge now was doping, which had displaced geopolitics as the most serious threat to the Games. Samaranch, who'd viewed drugs as a public-relations nuisance, had given Pound the job in 1999 and Rogge, a Belgian physician, persuaded him to stay on as chairman, guaranteeing him both independence and the IOC's four-square support for yet another thankless task.

"Dick always gets the toughest jobs," observes D'Alessandro, "the jobs that are most likely to offend."

Pound's credentials were beyond question. He'd been an Olympic athlete finalist in two events. He'd headed a national Olympic committee and had been an IOC member since 1978. He was a skilled attorney and negotiator. And he wasn't bashful around a microphone.

"He's the right man at the right time for the right job," says Wadler, a WADA committee member. "He has a palpable feel for the issues. He has a long history in sport, membership in the IOC and he was a competitive elite athlete. In many ways, there would be no WADA without Dick Pound."

Without Pound, the WADA likely would have become another acronym in the global alphabet soup, conducting educational symposia, imploring sports federations and governments to get tougher on drugs, writing reports destined for the dumpster. With Pound, the agency took a deliberate in-your-face posture. After decades of denial and resistance, he feels there is no other way.

"I really don't think we can sit in a circle holding hands and singing 'om -wouldn't-it-be-nice-if-we-were-all-drug-free-om,' and get some Zen solution to all this," Pound says. "The rules are all pretty clear and the rules are being broken deliberately and that has to be confronted."

If he thinks your sport is dirty (and he thinks most involving pros are), Pound will say so. If an athlete blames a positive test on tainted supplements, vanishing twins, or a few untimely shooters of whiskey, Pound will emit a horse laugh. Science doesn't lie, he says.

"If you go back and see what Dick was saying three, four, five years ago about doping, he was right," says D'Alessandro. "A lot of people thought he was outrageous and out of line and they've all been proven wrong."

The BALCO case involving baseball stars such as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield and the parade of positive tests by Olympic champions clearly has caused fans to become more skeptical of their idols.

"The public is starting to get it," Pound says. "I do a lot of talk shows in your Venison Belt and I say, how would you like to take your boy to the ballpark and say, someday, if you ingest enough of that stuff and lie convincingly enough, you can play our national game. They say, no, that's not what we want. I say, well, that's what's happening."

Direct approach
Some of Pound's critics this side of the border say he's simply anti-American. That's nonsense, says US Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth, who has known Pound since he was chief organizer of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

"Clearly a false and empty charge," he says. "Dick will defend our interests boldly when we're right. But he'll also not hesitate to whack us when we step out of line."

"People mistake his honesty and directness for a number of things," muses D'Alessandro. "He's anti-American. He's too blunt, too quick on the draw. Those are all the phrases that are used when you have something to hide and when you're afraid."

The denunciations come with the territory.

"A lot of people are throwing arrows at his back, but he stands up very tall," says Ueberroth, who believes the drug problem is widespread in America "and people don't have the courage to talk about it."

Last week, Pound was standing a tad stiffly after his transpacific jaunt, but his standard posture hadn't changed.

"Keep your head down," he says, "and never withdraw."

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