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Athletics: Tygart says Salazar ban a wake-up call for sponsors

DOHA (Reuters) - Travis Tygart, the head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), on Thursday called for sponsors to step up their efforts in the fight against performance-enhancing drugs.

FILE PHOTO: The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USDA) Chief Executive Officer, Travis Tygart, attends an interview with Reuters during the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Symposium in Ecublens near Lausanne, Switzerland, March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Tygart was critical of sportswear giant Nike for their involvement with coach Alberto Salazar who on Tuesday was banned by USADA for four years for doping violations.

The Anti-Doping Agency said Salazar was punished for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct” as head coach of the Nike Oregon Project (NOP), a camp designed primarily to develop U.S. endurance athletes.

Nike has denied any role in administering performance-enhancing drugs and said in a statement on Tuesday that it does not condone the use of banned substances.

Speaking to Reuters from Tokyo on Thursday, Tygart said it was time sponsors stepped up and did their part in the fight against doping.

“I hope it’ a wake-up call for all sponsors frankly, and others, to take a step back and say what’s really important about sport and why companies invest in sport, why companies profit in sport,” said the USADA chief.

“Fair play has to prevail, the rights and health and safety of athletes has to prevail... and not make excuses for things that are clearly unacceptable.”

Endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown, who worked for NOP on performance enhancement and served as a physician for numerous athletes in the training program, also received a four-year ban.

The USADA report cited emails showing Nike Inc Chief Executive Mark Parker was made aware of experiments by Brown involving AndroGel, a topical testosterone cream that is banned.

A Wall Street Journal report quoted a Nike representative who said Salazar was concerned runners “could be sabotaged by someone rubbing testosterone cream on them.”

Speaking via Skype Tygart told Reuters: “Having testosterone experiments, as the panel pointed out to independent arbitrators, that were possibly in violation of federal law, you can’t have it or distribute without prescription.

“So that being distributed to employees on Nike’s campus with full awareness all the way to the top as the arbitration decision showed is just frankly unacceptable.

Salazar has said he will appeal the decision while Nike said it would stand by him.

“The (panel) decision had nothing to do with administering banned substances to any Oregon Project athlete,” a Nike statement said on Tuesday.

“As the panel noted, they were struck by the amount of care Alberto took to ensure he was complying with the World Anti-Doping code.

“Nike does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner.”

However, Tygart said the lengthy USADA investigation had shown that athletes were “manipulated” and their medical records tampered with by Brown and Salazar.

He added that their health was put at risk by being given medication they did not need to improve athletic performance.

“Are we satisfied putting athletes at whatever age, whether they are elite Olympic athletes or young athletes, in a position where they are going to have to start a medical programme and to some extent become guinea pigs?” Tygart asked.

“So that is going to be part of this ongoing discussion, this medicalisation programme of elite sport and the environment that puts athletes into.”

Writing by Steve Keating in Doha. Editing by Christian Radnedge