The chief executive officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency said there are parallels between issues facing the U.S. horse industry and the Olympics when it comes to ensuring the integrity of those sports, specifically with regard to oversight on medications.
Travis Tygart was in Lexington April 14 to speak to a group of about 50 horse industry stakeholders brought together for an informational meeting organized by the Water Hay Oats Alliance. WHOA has a mission to stop race-day medication, including the anti-bleeding drug furosemide.
Among those present for Tygart's presentation were a diverse group of equine industry professionals, including farm owners, breeders, owners, stable managers, equine insurance professionals, regulators, and trainers.
In a Congressional bill known as the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which would create federal regulation of drug use in horse racing, USADA has been designated as the agency responsible for oversight. USADA, a private, not-for-profit company, is best known for its investigative work on the doping activities of cyclist Lance Armstrong and his teammates.
Tygart said his company agreed when asked by Congress to be included for consideration as the drug oversight body for any federal legislation regulating horse racing.
"We got asked by Congress, at no initiation by us, if we were willing to be named in a piece of federal legislation," said Tygart, whose company receives some federal funding as a result of its role within the Olympics drug oversight role. "We said we are in the business of protecting sport; horse racing doesn't fall under our mission, but we believe all sport should be safe, clean, and held to a standard that is fairly and evenly enforced. So we said, 'Congress, if you are asking us to do this, we will consider it as we move forward.' "
Tygart said that in USADA's limited experience looking into medication and integrity issues facing horse racing, it has become abundantly clear that the many rules and regulations spread across 38 different racing jurisdictions and the vested interests of so many groups involved in the horse industry are not unlike those faced by the International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee in the 1990s.
"It was a myriad of rules and regulations across the Olympic games," Tygart said, noting that more than 48 sports from about150 countries were involved. "We are not here to be the experts, but we can see parallels between the Olympics and horse racing."
While the proposed federal legislation has not advanced, Tygart said horse racing does not necessarily need congressional action to get a drug enforcement system. He said there is no federal law that mandates the Olympics' drug-testing mechanism.
"It goes without saying that at the end of day, the tenets of fairness, health, and clean competition are the ultimate goal," Tygart said. "I have yet to hear or see any reason your industry or any other industry or sport that wants to protect its integrity can't go through and have success having a similar process. There is federal legislation out there (for the horse industry). It didn't take federal legislation in the Olympic movement around the world.
"The USADA is not here to say it must be federal legislation; we are here to say there is a model here that can help and be done much better than is being done."
Tygart said that even if the federal legislation is enacted, the various stakeholders within the horse industry would still have the ultimate authority of how a drug enforcement plan is carried out.
"If there is a third party that comes, what has to happen is a consultant period and stakeholders ought to have input—standing committees of stakeholders—that provide guidance and consultation," Tygart said. "Everyone in the industry should be given a voice in that process. And then whatever comes out and is approved by the higher board overseeing the sport, that is the criteria."
Whether through USADA or some other body, Tygart said the most important elements of an effective drug oversight mechanism are not just the policies that are adopted but how those policies are enforced. He cited the example of how Russia had a set of policies for Olympians but was not following through on the implementation and enforcement.
"There are really two questions: How good or not good is the policy? And once you have uniform policies, then the question is whether the implementation of those policies is uniform or not," Tygart said.
Tygart said developing tests to detect new drugs that might have made their way into any sport is key to staying ahead of those trying to get around the rules, but he noted that an inordinate amount of new tests to be implemented could be counterproductive. He said a balance is needed between the desire to perfect new tests and getting them into the field and into effect.