Class of ’75 | As a boy, David Howman GL’75 dreamed of playing for the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team. As a young man, he excelled on the tennis court as well as the rugby field. But he chose to study the law rather than compete professionally as an athlete, and today this prominent barrister, solicitor, and sports lawyer travels the globe as director general of the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“Essentially, WADA monitors and coordinates with every government and every sport in the world in terms of anti-doping,” Howman explains. “WADA’s goal is to ensure that the policy, the procedures, and the practices are the same everywhere in the world.”
It’s a daunting task, as evidenced by the lingering steroid problem in baseball. In a recent issue of the respected online baseball magazine Baseball Prospectus, medical writer Will Carroll wrote about his meetings with Howman and other WADA officials on the subject of steroids and WADA’s “difficult job of policing the sports world.”
“While they are not yet directly involved in baseballor any professional sports in the United StatesWADA is perhaps the one independent voice that could give baseball the transparency needed to regain the public trust,” Carroll added. “WADA, filled with smart passionate people like … David Howman, has a chance to be a major force in helping baseball overcome this crisis … It’s funny that baseball needs help from Montreal.”
Howman, who has visited over 80 countries for WADA, notes that his first “OE” (overseas experience) was at Penn Law, which he attended on a Rotary Foundation post-graduate scholarship and which was then “just commencing its international Master’s course.” Since earning his graduate degree in 1975, he has been: a partner in one of the largest and most powerful legal firms in New Zealand; a private sports lawyer; president of New Zealand Tennis; counsel to (and later chairman of) the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency; commissioner for New Zealand Rugby; member of New Zealand Olympic Games Executive Committee; deputy chair of the Independent Observer Team to Sydney in 2000; and chair of the Independent Observer Group to Salt Lake City in 2002.
Howman’s involvement with WADA goes back to its 1999 inception, when he served as the New Zealand government’s representative. A year later, he was asked to head up WADA’s legal committee, and in March 2003 he became the organization’s chief operating officer and special counsel. (Along the way he helped create the World Anti-Doping Code, the first document harmonizing anti-doping rules in all sports and all countries, which passed unanimously in 2003 in Copenhagen. WADA monitors that code on a day-to-day basis.) Later that year, he took over as director general.
The decision to join WADA in Montreal wasn’t an easy one for Howman, since it meant leaving New Zealand. “They twisted my arm and my wife’s arm because she was New Zealand’s top television political journalist, so we had to give up her job and my career as a lawyer,” he recalls. “But the experience is fun, Montreal is very European, and the only difficulty is the cold of the Canadian winters, but we are adapting.”
Howman compares his position at WADA to an American CEO, managing the organization’s operations, governance system, and policy and executive committees.
On a daily basis, Howman oversees a staff of 52, which includes an array of expertsa medical doctor, Ph.D.s in pharmacology and other sciences, specialist lawyers, and individuals who ran other anti-doping agencies and served on organizing committees of the Olympic Games. While most of his staff is at the Montreal headquarters, WADA has offices in Tokyo, Cape Town, and Lausanne, Switzerland, and will open a fourth later this year in Montevideo, Uruguay. One day Howman might be in Uruguay addressing team sportsmen from South America, and the next day talking to lawyers in Zurich who are advising the organization that oversees World Cup soccer.
Howman frequently visits the United States to meet with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), as well as White House officials. While WADA is involved in policymaking and monitoring, the USADA does the actual testing of American athletes to detect illegal substances.
“At the beginning of 2003, we were publicly quite critical of the United States because the support that had been offered previously didn’t seem to be coming from the current administration,” Howman notes when asked about the federal investigation of BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), which provided performance-enhancing drugs to Barry Bonds and other prominent Major League players. “We spent a lot of time in Washington, talking with officials, pleading with them, showing them that the U.S. is getting into a situation where they were seen as the current East Germany or the current China, in terms of doping infractions and casting a blind eye to what was going on.
“But to be totally fair, the officials to whom we spoke recognized that, did a real big 180-degree turn, and got in behind us,” Howman adds. “Then, in his 2004 State of the Union address, the President appealed to athletes and professional sports to get rid of steroids. We have been entirely encouraged and thrilled with the way the government has responded.”
Yet “the baseball issue in the United States is still a major problem,” he notes. “Although there have been recent changes to the rules, they are gentle and do not reflect the prominence nor importance that should be given to this issue. The list of drugs that are tested for in Major League Baseball is still not extensive; the penalties are pathetic.”
Howman cites the example of Rafael Palmeiro, the Baltimore Orioles’ slugger who tested positive for steroids in July, four months after telling the House Government Reform Committee: “I have never used steroids. Period.” His punishment was a 10-day suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and some deafening boos from the fans.
“Regrettably, it takes the exposure of a superstar to finally hone the mind and draw full attention to this big issue,” Howman says. “It would be most disappointing if the strong steps voiced by Congress and the Senate earlier this year were not turned into law and action. We also expect there will be further ramifications as a result of the guilty pleas in the BALCO case. We have a strong expectation that there is much more that ought to be made known in this respect.”
Moreover, Howman views the use of illegal substances in sports as a critical issue, going beyond that of an elite-athlete issue: “When you have kids dying from overdosing while training for football, and guys dying on the baseball fields, it’s pretty dramatic. This is because they are taking dope to increase their performance. That’s wrong. It has been a huge wake-up call.” Asked what he thinks about athletes as role models, he answers: “No matter whether people say athletes should or should not be, they will always be role models.”
Howman notes that there have been similar controversies since the late sixties, and that they come in “surges.”
“I think it’s great that it’s happened in the U.S. now, because that’s one country we can rely on now to show strong leadership and strong direction,” he says. “I’ve heard all sorts of reasons as to why it has occurred, including that it was part and parcel of having to succeed in sports. That to me is the wrong sort of message. I’ve found in traveling around the world that there has been more of a swing in terms of banning drugs than there was five years ago, when people were saying, ‘Oh, poor old Ben Johnson; he was just unlucky because he got caught. But look at the other seven guys in the race. They were probably just as bad.’ Now, people say, ‘Well, if he got caught, he deserved to get caught.’”
Howman believes that some athletes are not strong enough to stand up to their trainers and their coaches.
But, he adds: “We are encouraged with the significant progress we have made, and the fact that the gap between those who choose to cheat and those who are mandated with the task of catching them has narrowed remarkably over the last year or so. Clean sport is what the majority of athletes throughout the world desire. Our task is to represent that majority, and to ensure that the playing field they participate on is level.”
Barbra Shotel CW’64
©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette