The head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency Aug. 11 outlined how the organization could assist the Thoroughbred racing industry should its factions come together and push for federal legislation authorizing USADA to handle equine drug testing and enforcement.
USADA chief executive officer and counsel Travis Tygart also addressed some misconceptions in his talk with industry stakeholders at a meeting organized by the Water Hay Oats Alliance in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. A day earlier The Jockey Club said it would pursue federal advocacy on the medication front as it continues to push for state-by-state adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program.
"Our interest in this is clean sport," Tygart said. "We're here for the right reasons. We wouldn't be here otherwise."
Tygart said a main reason USADA is successful handling drug testing and enforcement in the sports arena is the fact it is an independent organization, not a federal agency. USADA does receive federal grant money but isn't beholden to the sports it regulates, he said.
Tygart said there is an inherent conflict of interest when a sport promotes and polices itself. Horse racing falls into that category under its current structure.
"We're not here to promote the sport or grow revenue for the sport," Tygart said. "We're here to protect the rights (of the participants). We're here to have an honest, genuine (dialogue) about integrity and fairness in horse racing. Who can disagree with fairness and integrity in sport?"
WHOA, an advocacy group that opposes use of all race-day medication and supports the USADA proposal, believes federal legislation is the proper course of action. Industry officials at the Aug. 11 meeting said afterward that stakeholders will begin discussing legislation and a few other options that could produce the same results.
Federal legislation on equine drug testing in recent years has gone nowhere, in part because the language in the bills was viewed as problematic for the industry or suggested tinkering with the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. As the discussions move forward, it's possible a much simpler, less offensive bill could emerge.
"Legislation obviously is the best route, because it would immediately allow a top-down approach to be put into place," Tygart said.
Tygart also made a point to note the matter is about federal legislation, not federal regulation or intervention. If USADA was authorized to handle equine drug testing and enforcement, the organization would have to develop rules, with industry input, that would be unique to horse racing.
USADA would perform drug tests based on industry rules and policies; it wouldn't make the rules.
Industry discussions surely will address the role of state regulators, who currently contract with various laboratories for drug testing and issue penalties to violators. There is politics involved; in some states regulatory agencies contract with labs at state universities.
"What the magic language is I don't have right now," Tygart said.
Arthur Hancock of WHOA in opening remarks also noted the difference between legislation and regulation on the federal level. He acknowledged the challenges in bringing together a very diverse industry largely governed state by state but said there is urgency.
"This is an important time in our industry," Hancock said. "We are at a tipping point. The culprit in our opinion? Drugs. It's necessary to rid our sport of drugs to have a bright future. Our work has just begun."