NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Anti-Doping Agency head Travis Tygart said the lapse in testing during Major League Baseball’s lockout was not ideal but the league’s drug policy and a change of culture in the sport meant there was little chance of a return to the “BALCO days”.
MLB locked out its players in December after the two sides failed to reach a deal on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In February, Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters: “Our legal authority to conduct drug tests expired with the expired agreement.”
The league and players reached their new labor deal in March.
USADA chief Tygart said baseball had changed since the days of the BALCO scandal, when several high-profile players were linked to steroid use.
“I go back to the BALCO days where they had no testing program at all … and it was a culture that was biased against clean athletes. I think those days are long gone,” said Tygart.
“(MLB) are so far ahead of everyone else. And yet people want to pick on them because they’re easy or their history allows them to be easy to be picked on.”
Under the current Joint Drug Program policy, MLB is able to suspend players through evidence uncovered through non-analytical measures, and could potentially discipline them if evidence shows a potential violation occurred in the lockout.
“We believe that the world-class independent program we have established with the Players Association promotes the goals of integrity, deterrence and transparency,” MLB said in a statement provided to Reuters.
Tygart called the investigative side of the policy a “critical component” and also praised MLB’s use of a “biological passport”.
“You don’t want that situation (a lapse in testing) to occur, of course,” he said.
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean or lead to athletes who otherwise don’t want to break the rules, who want to compete clean feel like they have a free window to go out and do whatever they want.”
Testing resumed in the league the day after an agreement was reached between players and the league in March, ending the lockout.
Opening Day is set for Thursday.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Peter Rutherford)