Pound defends anti-doping lab in Landis probe

Updated: November 16, 2006, 2:41 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound defended the French lab whose credibility is under scrutiny for its handling of Floyd Landis' samples during the Tour de France.

Pound said Wednesday the case against the American cyclist should not be derailed by a mistake in the labeling of his backup urine specimen and the theft of data from the lab by computer hackers.

"For me, the real problem is the activities of several hackers who entered into the system without permission, possibly against the law," Pound said in a conference call. "We have to wait for the result of the investigation. For the specific [Landis] case, there will be a hearing in January. The arbitrators will consider all the evidence."

On Wednesday, the French daily Le Monde reported that the lab made an "administrative error" in handling Landis' samples, listing the wrong number in its report on the backup "B" specimen.

"I don't know who did what," Pound said. "Our rule as a monitoring agency is to wait and see what the facts are."

The lab, accredited by WADA and the International Olympic Committee, analyzed the two urine samples that showed elevated testosterone to epitesterone levels in Landis' system when he won the Tour de France in July.

Landis, who denies doping, will defend his case at a U.S. arbitration hearing. If found guilty of a doping offense, he would be formally stripped of the Tour title and face a two-year ban.

French authorities said Tuesday they were investigating a breach of the computer system at the Chatenay-Malabry laboratory outside Paris. Hackers allegedly accessed material from the computers and sent out letters to Olympic and doping officials in an effort to discredit the lab.

Pound said an administrative mistake does not compromise the finding that Landis' samples tested positive.

"The code contemplates minor errors that don't affect the lab's ability and the analysis," he said. "Ideally you don't want there to be any errors, administrative or otherwise. We just have to wait and see. It's kind of an unusual situation. It's entirely possible that all of this information has been illegally obtained."

Pound dismissed suggestions the case could be dropped because of the error.

"I have total confidence in the procedure that will give Mr. Landis the full opportunity to present his case, and for the lab to give its position," he said. "A trio of arbitrators will decide based on the facts and not what we read in the newspapers."

Pound spoke ahead of WADA's executive committee and foundation board meeting in Montreal on Sunday and Monday. WADA will review the first draft revision of its global anti-doping code, which sets out common rules and sanctions for all sports and countries. The final version will come up for approval at the next world anti-doping conference in September in Madrid.

The International Association of Athletics Federations has proposed doubling the standard penalty for a serious doping violation from a two-year to four-year suspension. While no decision is expected at this meeting, Pound said experts would need to examine whether a four-year ban would stand up in civil courts.

WADA will elect a vice president to succeed Denmark's Brian Mikkelsen. French sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour is the only candidate, having been nominated by European ministers last month. He will be in a leading position to replace Pound when his term expires next year.

Pound said WADA will renew its push for governments to ratify the UNESCO convention on doping. Only 24 countries have done so, six short of the number required for the treaty to take formal effect.

Pound also singled out Mexico for failing to pay its share of the WADA budget, which will be increased by 3 percent to $23 million in 2007.

On a separate issue, Pound expressed concern that testing for human growth hormone is being done only a limited scale and suggested use of the substance is widespread, particularly in North American professional leagues.

"We think there's far more use out there than people suspect," he said. "People have been encouraged by the fact that there has not been rigorous testing. We hope to provide as much discomfort as soon as we can."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press