Anti-doping leaders scolded ESPN for sending the wrong message by not conducting drug tests at the X Games in Norway this week. The network's answer: Feel free to test whomever you'd like.
Hit with criticism from the heads of the Olympics, the World Anti-Doping Agency and Norway's anti-doping federation, ESPN responded by reiterating its own policy — while it doesn't conduct its own testing, the network has always offered federations space and credentials so they can set up and conduct their own "out-of-competition" tests.
Created in 1997 as an independent event, the Winter X Games provided the most visible platform for snowboarding and other action sports. A few of those sports were introduced into the Winter Olympics in 1998. Now, they make up a sizable portion of the Olympic program.
WADA director general David Howman called ESPN's lack of a testing program "surprising and regrettable."
"This sends the wrong message to athletes at a fragile time for clean sport worldwide," Howman said.
His comments came after Norway's skiing federation backed out of a deal with an ESPN partner because WADA rules aren't being followed. Also, Norway's anti-doping chief called on Oslo to withdraw financial support of the Norwegian version of the X Games, which begin Wednesday and will include both winter and summer sports. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said he was monitoring this issue.
"We want to see the clean athletes protected in all sports events, so we will discuss this issue with WADA," Bach said.
An ESPN spokesperson sent a statement to The Associated Press that said the network has "consistently communicated that X Games is an independent event, with its own guidelines for competition and athlete participation."
"At X Games Oslo, federations can operate as they have for 20 years at X Games events around the world and we are happy to provide accreditation and space for them to perform their normal `out of competition' testing procedures," the statement said. "However, we are not prepared to change the X Games guidelines for participation at this time." Because many snowboarding and freeskiing events are run by organizations other than the ski federation that oversees the Olympics, the X Games aren't the only event subject to different anti-doping standards.