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MLB, NFL each give $3M toward anti-doping research collaborative

1/11/2008 - MLB NFL

DENVER -- Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was looking for a
way to show he's really trying to fight steroids. The U.S. Olympic
Committee served up a perfect opportunity for Selig to do something
more than just talk.

Major League Baseball and the NFL agreed Thursday to join an
anti-doping research collaborative spearheaded by the USOC. Each
will contribute $3 million to create the most extensive
drug-fighting partnership to date between the United States'
biggest pro leagues and its Olympic federation.

A month after the release of the Mitchell report, this
announcement was especially significant for baseball, which is
looking for any glimmer of good news during this winter of
discontent filled with news of doping, Roger Clemens and pending
Congressional hearings.

"Major League Baseball's support of this important new effort
by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency
continues our commitment to fight the use of performance-enhancing
substances among our athletes," Selig said in a statement.

When the Mitchell report came out last month, Selig promised he
would act. The timing of the announcement is opportune for
baseball, though USOC chief executive officer Jim Scherr said
details of this program have been in the works for more than six
months.

"We've worked a long time with baseball and the other
participants," Scherr said. "It's been a sincere, long-running
effort by them."

The USOC also is giving $3 million, and USADA is giving $1
million to the new Partnership for Clean Competition, a
collaborative venture that will use the money to fund grants for
research to combat performance-enhancing drugs in sports.

The NBA, NHL and PGA also are participating, and USOC chairman
Peter Ueberroth said the USOC soon will secure more contributions
from sports and non-sports corporations.

Ueberroth told The Associated Press he expects the funding to go
well beyond $10 million quickly.

"We want to be in a place where we can stay ahead of cheaters
and buy into economic ways to fight this battle," he said.

Although this program isn't a shift in the leagues' testing
protocols, it is significant because baseball and the NFL long have
distanced themselves from anti-doping programs endorsed by the USOC
and USADA, saying their programs are tailored specifically for
their sports and their unique management-union issues.

Part of the research money will go toward developing a better
and cheaper test to detect human growth hormone.

Already working on these kinds of tests is Don Catlin, the
longtime leader of the world-renowned lab at UCLA who resigned to
start his own lab.

Catlin, who could be a beneficiary of this new line of funding,
said he was "floored" by the news.

"It's dear to my heart because I always felt research was the
answer in this whole field," he said. "They've been doing testing
for 25 years, and we all know what they can and can't do. My whole
foundational premise and rationale for what I'm doing is a belief
in research."

Catlin, who has received $500,000 each from baseball and the NFL
for research on a urine test on HGH, said he was surprised the
leagues signed onto the program with the USOC.

"That means they recognize the value of collaboration, and that
there are common problems that cross over all sports," Catlin
said. "That's important."

The research collaborative is one in a series of anti-doping
initiatives the USOC plans over the coming months and years.

"It doesn't affect one sport or just sports," Scherr said.
"It affects society. It's something the leagues sincerely believe
in."

Up to now, the research part of the anti-doping fight has been
underfunded. Scientists and pharmacists have been able to come up
with new, undetectable steroids more quickly than agencies such as
USADA have come up with tests to fight them.

The $10 million, to be contributed by the four founders over the
next four years, will be a significant boost to the worldwide
research effort. The World Anti-Doping Agency, thought to be the
biggest single contributor to the cause, has given $31 million to
research since 2001.

"This U.S. research initiative provides a significant
multiplication of resources and is a model we hope will be
replicated in other developed countries," WADA director general
David Howman said.

Ueberroth also would like to see less-expensive tests developed
for high school sports. These tests wouldn't meet the standards of
a USADA-style test, but could be used, for instance, to help
coaches detect possible widespread use on their teams.

"Part of the USOC mandate is that we represent a lot of
sports," Ueberroth said. "Let's help them all. A lot of them are
defenseless economically. That's another reason we took the lead."

The Partnership for Clean Competition will have a board of
governors, with one member from each of the founding partners. That
board will appoint a scientific research advisory board. The
scientific board will review grant requests and track results of
research projects.

"Our support of the Partnership for Clean Competition is
consistent with our long-standing commitment to invest in research
that advances the goal of eliminating doping in sport," NFL
commissioner Roger Goodell said.

The NFL has had an extensive anti-doping policy in place for
several years. Though it lacks a test for HGH, it is considered
effective because it bans players for four games after a first
positive steroids test and goes after salaries and signing bonuses.

Both baseball and the NFL also have been active in other
anti-doping programs. In October, the NFL gave $1.2 million to the
Atlas and Athena program, which encourages high school students to
look to exercise and healthy eating instead of steroids and HGH.
Baseball has alliances with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America
and the Taylor Hooton Foundation.

One of the key components of the Mitchell report was the
recommendation that baseball employ an independent anti-doping
corporation to run its steroids program. Although baseball's
contribution to this new project falls short of that, it is a
substantial alliance with the USOC and USADA, which runs the kind
of program the Mitchell report endorses.

"USADA welcomes and greatly appreciates the shared commitment
of the U.S. Olympic Committee, National Football League and Major
League Baseball, and that of others who join us in this important
endeavor," said Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA.