IOC: From Corruption to Drug Crisis
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ Still caught up in a widening corruption scandal, the International Olympic Committee now has to deal with another ethical issue that is potentially just as damaging: drugs.
With the bribery crisis unfolding, the IOC finds itself in the tricky position of staging a world summit next week against the escalating use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Does the IOC _ and its embattled president, Juan Antonio Samaranch _ have the ethical authority to lead a crusade against drugs when the committee’s own standards are under attack in the biggest corruption scandal in Olympic history?
Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug czar who is part of the U.S. delegation to the conference, has his doubts.
``Clearly the (IOC) is in serious disruption now,″ he said in Washington this week. ``It’s hard to imagine how this issue can be moved forward if the institution lacks legitimacy to address the problem.″
IOC officials say they informally discussed whether to postpone the conference as a result of the vote-buying scandals that started with Salt Lake City’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games and have since spread to other cities.
But the doping meeting was announced months ago, and with some 500 delegates due to attend, it was decided not to cancel.
The IOC completed its investigation into the Salt Lake City scandal last weekend _ including the ouster of six members _ in hopes of clearing the way for the drug summit.
``It was necessary to try to clean the house before the conference,″ Samaranch told The Associated Press. ``There are many ministers, many people, very important organizations coming here. It would be a disaster to postpone it.″
IOC executive board member Kevan Gosper said he doesn’t think the conference will be eclipsed or overshadowed by the corruption scandals.
``It would have been difficult to go into the conference on the moral high ground if we’d been less than diligent on the Salt Lake inquiry,″ he said. ``It was important to show we were putting our house in order.″
``It would have been a wrong move to postpone the conference,″ he said. ``It would have demonstrated a weakness on our part.″
The World Conference on Doping in Sport, which runs Tuesday through Thursday at the Beaulieu Palace in Lausanne, was called in the wake of an unprecedented spate of drug cases in the past year.
The main catalyst for the meeting was the doping scandals that decimated the Tour de France cycling race in July. A series of arrests, police raids and confessions exposed the widespread, systematic use of drugs, notably the banned endurance-boosting hormone erythropoietin _ EPO.
There were other prominent cases:
_ Irish swimmer Michele Smith de Bruin, winner of three gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games, was banned for four years after being found guilty of tampering with her urine samples. She’s appealing.
_ Tennis star Petr Korda tested positive for steroids at Wimbledon, only to escape without a suspension due to ``exceptional circumstances.″ Tennis officials are now trying to get him banned for a year.
_ A Chinese woman swimmer was suspended for four years after carrying banned drugs in her luggage to the world championships in Australia; four other Chinese swimmers got two-year bans for using banned substances.
_ Sprinter Dennis Mitchell, Olympic champion shot putter Randy Barnes and three-time Boston Marathon champion Uta Pippig all failed drug tests. Mitchell was later cleared by USA Track and Field, while Barnes and Pippig are appealing.
The IOC, which introduced drug tests at the 1968 Olympics, acknowledges that the problem is only getting worse.
``Thirty years later, it has unfortunately become clear that ... doping is spreading at a terrifying rate,″ the IOC said in conference documents.
The main goals of the meeting are come up with an ironclad definition of doping, agree on a single medical code and list of banned substances, unify drug rules and sanctions, set up a world anti-doping agency and enlist the support of governments and law enforcement agencies.
The IOC will be under pressure to make sure the conference amounts to more than a chat room and produces concrete action rather than cosmetic gestures.
``The IOC must not shy away from its responsibility to provide leadership and direction on this matter to safeguard the integrity of sport and generations of future athletes,″ the British Olympic Association said Friday.
The biggest challenge has been to try to get all sports federations to abide by the same policy.
All Olympic federations _ except for three _ adopted a resolution in November calling for a minimum two-year ban for use of steroids and other major drugs. A second offense would result in a life ban.
The world bodies of soccer, tennis and cycling all expressed reservations.
FIFA, the soccer federation, says it will never accept a two-year ban. Cycling says the sanction will never stand up in court. And tennis has been ridiculed for allowing Korda to escape without suspension on grounds that he didn’t know how the banned drug got into his system.
Under the terms of the November agreement, sports that don’t comply risk being dropped from the Olympics. But the IOC has shown no signs that it will carry out the threat.
The Olympics’ drug chief proposed a major compromise this week.
Prince Alexandre de Merode, the IOC medical commission chairman, called for ``selective″ bans under which athletes would be barred from major competitions but allowed to take part in minor events.
De Merode’s plan would allow athletes to continue to make a living while serving drug suspensions. This would help bring sanctions into line with European right-to-work laws.
But the move could also be interpreted as a sign of weakness at a time when many are calling on the IOC to take hard-line measures.
Another key issue is the need to find reliable tests for EPO, human growth hormone and other synthetic forms of naturally occurring substances. These have become the drugs of choice in sports because they can’t be detected by current testing methods.
Sports officials are calling for additional funding and research to develop new tests. The possibility of blood tests is also being explored.
The conference is expected to approve the creation of an agency that will coordinate the anti-doping fight around the world, including a comprehensive, out-of-competition testing program. Whether the agency will be under the aegis of the IOC or fully independent remains uncertain.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, plan to use the conference to renew their call for duplicate medals to be awarded to Olympic athletes who lost to East German competitors using drugs.
In December, the IOC turned down U.S. and British requests for medals for swimmers beaten by East Germans at the 1976 and 1980 Games.
The IOC said it was impossible to rewrite the record books, despite court evidence in Germany that East German athletes were helped by steroids.