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U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy noticed something different about the House subcommittee hearing he chaired Tuesday.
“We rarely have applause after testimony,” Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said after Olympic legend Michael Phelps addressed the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Phelps, the most decorated Olympian with 28 medals, headlined a hearing on ways to strengthen the anti-doping system in international sports. It lasted more than two hours.
A Russian doping scandal cast a cloud over the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last summer. In the weeks leading to the games, international sports officials contemplated barring Russia from participating because of allegations the country had run a state-sponsored doping program to gain an edge in international competition and covered up positive results. In the end, the International Olympic Committee cleared nearly 300 Russian athletes to compete but barred more than 100.
“Within the anti-doping community, there are concerns regarding organizational structure and how the current system creates an environment where individuals are both policing and promoting the sport,” said Murphy, who has chaired the oversight and investigations subcommittee since 2013.
Murphy pointed to conflicts of interest in the World Anti-Doping Agency, noting some senior leaders hold policy-making positions within various sports organizations.
Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, equated that to “the fox guarding the henhouse” in his testimony.
Dr. Richard Budgett, medical and scientific director for the IOC, testified that IOC officials are “actually in the process of relinquishing all control over anti-doping and are going to pass it to this independent testing authority,” referring to the World Anti-Doping Agency.
That agency's deputy director general, Rob Koehler, expressed a willingness to remove people affiliated with sports organizations from the group's governing bodies that would oversee or decide upon potential doping sanctions.
Koehler said it's vital to protect whistle-blowing athletes who come forward with allegations of doping.
Phelps, 31, said he “never voiced opinions really before this year” about doping in swimming, a sport he dominated in more than 15 years of international competition.
“I have always stayed in my lane, so to say,” Phelps said, even though he suspected throughout his career that some of the athletes he competed against were doping — particularly ones from foreign countries where testing and monitoring of athletes might not be as stringent as he said it is in the United States.
But now that Phelps says he has retired, he's more willing to speak out.
“All athletes must be held to the same standards, which need to be implemented and enforced with consistency and independence,” Phelps said. “The time to act is now. We must do what is necessary to ensure the system is fair and reliable, so we can all believe in it.”
Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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