Why are the R&A and the PGA still failing to comply with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Standards? What are they afraid of?

Thomas BachThomas Bach, 2016 Olympic President, has been openly critical of the PGA for a lack of transparency in its anti-doping policy, and insisted that all golfers competing in the Olympics will have to be WADA compliant. To date, the response from golf’s governing body has been muted, to say the least!

The PGA does have an anti-doping programme, but in most people’s eyes it is not as stringent as the world code. Ten classes of drugs are banned (including anabolic steroids, hormones, narcotics and beta blockers) but two substances in the WADA list (glucocorticosteroids and Beta-2-Agonists) are not included because executives don’t believe that they enhance a golfer's performance.

Thirteen weeks before the 2016 Games in Rio, participating Olympic players will automatically be required to comply with that world code, because the tournament in Brazil – the first Olympic golf competition since 1904 – will operate under the International Golf Federation’s (IGF) anti-doping policy, which is WADA compliant.

The IOC President said: “They will have the same conditions like all the athletes. There will be random testing. There will be target testing. With regard to the anti-doping programme, it is clear that the athletes will have to accept the Olympic standards during the next year prior to the Games, and of course during the Games.” That means, for instance, that during the Games the top five finishers will be tested in addition to the random testing and targeted testing during the Games.

Bach went on to say: “Prior to the Games and from now on, I can only encourage the PGA Tour to follow the WADA code, and finally to accept the WADA code and to be compliant with this, so that you have a harmonised anti-doping regime for all the golf players and that you have an equal level of playing field.”

In practical terms, that would mean that all golfers would need to give details of their whereabouts at all times and consent to being blood-tested, with any positive samples being made public. The PGA Tour’s current policy is only to disclose details of any decision-making following drug infringements, if the infringement is regarded as performance-enhancing. Bans for recreational drug use are not made public and only three Tour players have been sanctioned for use of performance-enhancing drugs since 2008.

Tim FinchemDespite these discrepancies, Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, seems unmoved and still insists: “The doping programme we have is the best in our sport globally.” He has persistently denied there has been any evidence that professional golfers have taken any performance-enhancing drugs. Recently, however, he has faced mounting pressure from other world organisations – and a number of players (including Tiger Woods) – urging him to change his mind. "But for the problems in other sports, I doubt we would be at this point," he said during a conference with the leaders of six major golf organizations.

The International Golf Federation has released its own statement in which it says: “Olympic golf will operate under our anti-doping policy, which is WADA compliant. This will come into effect 13 weeks out from the Olympic Games in Rio. In 2016, for the period from May 6th through to the conclusion of the Olympic Games there will be a registered testing pool, created and managed by the IGF, and male and female golfing athletes will be subject to both urine and blood tests for substances on the WADA prohibited list.”

Peter DawsonPeter Dawson, outgoing chief executive of the R&A, commented, “I would certainly urge that golf moves towards being WADA compliant at all times and right across the world, and I think the game of golf is working towards that.” He did however make a point of saying that, “It’s still my belief that we don’t have a major drug problem of any kind in the game of golf.”

Legends of Golf in Savannah, GA April 19, 2010While it seems that the R&A and the PGA are quite content to procrastinate (thus appearing at best to be indecisive and at worst to be indifferent about the subject), Gary Player is not nearly so reticent. He is on record as saying that he personally knows that some golfers are using drugs: "Whether it's HGH, Creatine, or steroids, I know for a fact that some golfers are doing it," he said.

When asked at a press conference why the R&A does not have drug testing at the British Open and whether he was concerned that its winner could be using steroids, Dawson rather lamely replied, "I don't know if Gary Player is right about golfers being on drugs, frankly, so I really can't comment. One thing I do know is that we're not drug testing here at the Open championship this week, so just how that would be identified, I'm not sure."

So, let’s take a reality check. Relatively recently, one of golf’s top players failed his third drug test in five years. The same player competed at last month’s Open Championship, where there was clearly no testing in operation. Does that suggest that those charged with governance of golf should extract their heads from the sand and squarely face up to the kind of issues that get athletes in most other sports lengthy, if not lifetime bans? Are we being overly sceptical to wonder whether their failure to act decisively and vigorously has anything to do with economics? – After all, there's a lot of money to be made from those at the very top of the game. Could that be why there seems to be a reluctance to rock the boat?

14593885027_0dd4a0cc91_m7818775672_c63fc18482_mAll this comes at a time when other governing bodies (cycling and athletics being very public examples) are repeatedly and openly addressing drug-related incidents and attempting to clean up their respective sports. Surely someone in a position of authority within the game of golf has to step up to the plate, and quickly!

It may well be that golf doesn't have a “major drug problem”, but how will we ever know until proper testing is routinely employed. Can the R&A and PGA each continue to justify its current position: one rule for golf and another for everyone else?

U.S. Open Golf Practice Round June 13,  2011Can it continue to cultivate the code of silence with which it once helped to cover up Tiger's indiscretions? When Dustin Johnson failed to appear to defend his title at the World Golf Championship in Shanghai, following all the media speculation about his "off-course issues", the PGA remained tight-lipped about where he was and the reasons for his non-appearance.

The European Tour, meanwhile, have practiced random drug-testing since July 2008, but will not disclose which tournaments are targeted by testers, or how often drug testing is carried out. When drug testing occurs, samples are taken from 10 to 15 per cent of the field and are carried out by an external company, Independent Drug Test Management. The European Tour also use results from drug tests taken during tournaments on the PGA Tour, and claim that this negates the need to take as many tests themselves, which they say would "inconvenience" players who play on both sides of the Atlantic.

U.S. Open Golf Practice Round June 15,  2011[6] Tiger WoodsThis discrepancy between the two tours is reflected in separate comments made by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose. Woods revealed that on average he’s tested about five times a year on the PGA Tour: “We get regularly tested throughout the year… like five times. That’s usually about the number for most guys.” While Justin Rose made the startling admission in 2013 that he had never taken a drugs test while competing on the European Tour.

It has been claimed that drugs cannot enhance a golfer’s performance in the way that they can in sports such as athletics, cycling and football. A drug cannot help a golfer hit a putt straight, they say. Maybe, maybe not. However, as the sport’s top stars develop ever more powerful physiques in search of increased swing speed, does it not seem naïve to ignore the issue?