IOC To Beef Up Campaign Against Drug Abuse
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The more drugs in sports change, the more the battle for Prince Alexandre de Merode remains the same.
At the Seoul Olympics, the head of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission faces a well-worn challenge that still eludes an answer:
How to keep up with athletes who use increasingly sophisticated, hard-to- detect drugs to cheat their way to the top.
The challenge, said de Merode, shows the need for a joint international effort to ban drugs from sports.
Since de Merode took the job 21 years ago, the use of banned substances has often stayed one step ahead of detection.
″Our long road is not yet at an end,″ he said in an interview at his Brussels home. ″Tomorrow there will be another drug problem, more complicated and probably involving some genetic manipulation,″ he said.
Now, the IOC plans to battle medical progress with improved organization.
Meeting on the eve of the Seoul games, it hopes to approve uniform drug procedures and sanctions for all Olympic sports at both the Games and other events.
A textbook case, he said, was Spain’s Pedro Delgado, winner of the 1988 Tour de France, who used a drug-masking agent that is banned by the IOC but not the International Cycling Federation whose rules apply to the race.
The discrepancy in sanctions is an old controversy. It often discredits sports in general and leaves many athletes feeling discriminated.
″Two types of sanctions for the same type of offense is unacceptable,″ says de Merode.
Together with Unesco and individual sports federations, the IOC also hopes to enlist governments in the fight against drugs in sports. A conference about this is due to take place in Moscow in November.
″That will be a first important step,″ said de Merode. ″Then we will be able to unify the laws of the governments and the rules of the international federations, the IOC, and so on.″
In Seoul, the IOC also plans to issue rules designed to curb trafficking in banned substances by athletes.
Earlier this year, Soviet speed skating star Nicolai Guljajev was caught with 800 anabolic steroid pills.
And Eric Coppin, the Belgian powerlifting world champion, carried 28,000 such pills in his suitcase when he tried to enter Norway.
These instances fueled suspicions that doping is much more prevalent than IOC testing indicates.
″We must have regulations such as those used by goverments against trafficking,″ which penalize offenders whatever the excuse, said de Merode. Athletes often say they do not know the products they are carrying.
It is hoped the anti-trafficking rules will be in force when the Olympics open Sept. 17. Sanctions will be ″very drastic,″ de Merode said.
But with competition and training getting more intense, the temptation for athletes to overstep their natural limits through drugs increases, he said.
Also, the drugs themselves remain tempting as many can elude detection.
Human growth hormones, used by doctors to treat dwarfism, first appeared in sports several years ago. Some athletes believe they can boost their output, but specialists doubt this.
″We do not know if they have any effect on performance. Some years ago, growth hormones were actually used more than now,″ he said.
Genetically engineered drugs, which could dramatically enhance output without showing up in tests, are still ″all in the future″ but are already a major challenge, he said.
A drug-busting breakthrough was made at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis last year when organizers were able to test for Probenicid, a drug-masking agent.
At Seoul, Olympic athletes will for the first time be screened for Probenicid, which is on the IOC’s list of banned drugs.
It gained notoriety last month when it was found in Delgado’s urine as he led in the overall standings of the Tour de France.
But as the International Cycling Federation at the time, unlike the IOC, did not yet ban Probenicid, the Spaniard was not penalized and went on to win cycling’s most grueling event.
″He tried to cheat and by luck″ got away with it, said de Merode.
De Merode admits doctors are often the real villains in cases of drug abuse. Athletes themselves are often ignorant of the dangers of the drugs they take.
″Some doctors have forgotten their Hippocratic oath, their basic ethics, when they treat top athletes,″ he said.
The IOC began testing for banned drugs at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.
In Moscow, in 1980, not one competitor was caught using banned drugs, something that raised a few eyebrows of sport insiders. At the 1984 Los Angeles Games, a dozen athletes were caught. In the IOC jargon, they ″tested positive.″
The IOC conducts some 37,000 drugs tests annually.
Of these, some 2 percent ″test positive″ although De Merode acknowledges a figure of up to 10 percent would be more realistic.
He says urine tests are far from perfect and hopes testing of blood will soon be introduced. These, coupled with urine tests, will give cheaters a lot less leeway.
″The distance between us and the people working against us is strongly reduced,″ he said. ″Tomorrow, however, some new drug might be discovered.″
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