Lionel Sanders, one of long-distance triathlon’s highest-profile figures, has called for the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) to put a significant percentage of their prize money towards out-of-competition drug testing.
As the body owned by and representing the athletes, the PTO has been in the spotlight ever since it was announced that American athlete Collin Chartier had tested positive for EPO and been given a three-year suspension.
Chartier, who admitted his guilt, said he had started taking the performance-enhancing drug in November.
His biggest victory, by some margin, came in the PTO US Open last September where he collected a winner’s cheque of $100,000.
Who is leading the battle against doping?
But the positive test came to light after an out-of-competition test by IRONMAN, which was then handled by the International Testing Agency (ITA), the body appointed to independently look after the results management and intelligence and investigations on anti-doping rule violations on behalf of IRONMAN.
It has led many prominent figures within the sport to question whether the PTO is doing enough in the battle against doping.
Six-time Kona winner Mark Allen for example labelled the PTO’s response as “pretty lame”, adding: “IRONMAN is very proactive about this. They are funding and being in charge of doing out-of-competition testing. The PTO does not do any out-of-competition testing.
“In my opinion… had they [IRONMAN] not been involved with this, Collin Chartier would still be racing.”
‘Take it to a vote’
And now Canadian Sanders – speaking to his YouTube subscriber base of 159,000 – has come up with a radical suggestion.
“You know what I think? We take it to a vote. All the pros, PTO members, every one of them them. And we take a minimum 20% of all prize purses, including the one this coming weekend [PTO European Open in Ibiza].
“Prize purses are reduced by 20% [and that goes to…] out-of-competition drug testing.
“And we want to see the books. We want that to be public, it’s your athletes’ organisation. We want to know who you have tested, how many times, what did they cost?”
There are three PTO Tour races announced so far this year – the PTO European Open in Ibiza this weekend, the Asian Open in Singapore and US Open in Milwaukee.
All have prize funds of $600,000, making them the most lucrative in the sport, though they are limited to the athletes at the top of the rankings plus a selection of invited wildcards.
“So that’s $120,000 from each race,” added Sanders. “I say this about the PTO races because… the PTO doesn’t do any out-of-competition testing.
“We can set a precedent. I think we could if we wanted to as a sport. If we’re truly anti-doping, then we could implement every check and balance against doping if we wanted to as a whole.
“If it’s an athletes’ organisation, then for the young guys coming up, if 20% of all prize purses – or whatever we can agree on – that’s going to go to keeping the sport clean, then I think that will give the young guys more hope.
“Put your money where your mouth is I think and at least damn well start to implement out-of-competition testing.”
‘How do we move forward?’
Sanders also revealed that when he no longer feels he can win a World Championship, he’d like to coach younger athletes who believe they can.
And he added: “Now, I have to watch my mouth, of course, because I have no evidence of anything. And so maybe the sport is as clean as could possibly be.
“Now, that seems to me like you’re still living back in the day before this news came out, and you’re living in an insane world of naivety, because it’s well known, whenever I talk to young kids about running, they all think running is dirty.
“Cycling, I don’t think anyone really thinks that cycling is squeaky clean. Certainly wasn’t and probably hasn’t been totally fixed.
“Swimming. Talked to coach, he said lots of problems happening in swimming. So why would the combination of the three have no problems going on?
“I’m asking this as a fan of my sport, as a person who wants to remain a fan of my sport and remain in the sport, I think I’m asking… what do people think we should do? How do we move forward as a sport?”
We asked the PTO for a response and here it is, from CEO Sam Renouf: “The PTO has a unique setup in the world of Triathlon, in that, as Lionel points out, we are an athlete organisation formed by professional triathletes to further their sport.
“This may seem unusual, but any sports historian would point out is actually Triathlon following the well-trodden path of athlete self-determination. As such, we welcome all interactions, debate and proactive ideas through our (elected) Athlete Board around how we can help protect the integrity of our great sport.”