LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ In a move to eliminate suspicions of cover-ups and faulty procedures, independent observers will monitor drug testing during the Sydney Olympics.

The initiative was announced Wednesday as the International Olympic Committee cleared the way for blood tests to be introduced in Sydney if a reliable method for detecting the banned hormone EPO is validated in time.

``The odds are 50-50 we'll have an EPO test for Sydney,'' Jacques Rogge, vice chairman of the IOC medical commission, said. ``It's a race against time.''

Rogge said the independent monitors will be appointed by the new World Anti-Doping Agency to watch over the entire drug testing system during the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 games.

The observers will be present at all stages, including the collection and analysis of urine samples and disciplinary hearings for athletes who test positive.

This will be the first time that independent delegates will observe testing at the Olympics. Until now, the IOC has been the sole overseer of drug controls.

The need for greater openness, oversight and accountability in Olympic drug testing has been a major demand of athletes' groups. Critics have accused the IOC of hiding positive tests at past Olympics.

``Athletes want controls to be fair,'' Rogge said. ``They feel that doping controls are generally not correct. They fear cover-ups. There is a general suspicion among athletes and part of public opinion.

``While these concerns are unjustified, the best way to alleviate the suspicion is to have an independent observer who follows the whole sequence of doping control.''

IOC vice president Dick Pound, chairman of the anti-doping agency, added: ``Unless the athletes buy into the doping control system, the system won't work.''

It's uncertain how many observers will be needed. With more than 2,000 drug tests to be carried out during the Sydney Games, Rogge said the observers will be selective in their monitoring.

``We don't need the U.N. army with blue helmets,'' he said. ``You don't need a big brother mentality of observers behind the shoulder for every doping control.''

Rogge, meanwhile, gave one of the IOC's most upbeat assessments of the possibility of having a test for EPO, or erythropoietin, in Sydney.

EPO, which enhances endurance by boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells in the body, was at the center of the Tour de France drug scandal in 1998 and is believed widely used in several sports.

EPO cannot be detected by standard urine tests.

Rogge said the IOC has finalized the legal rules which would allow blood sampling to be carried out in Sydney if a test is ready.

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport have told the IOC they can produce a reliable EPO test by early July.

``We can't accept a test that has not been scientifically validated,'' Rogge said.

The IOC will announce shortly the procedures for scientific validation, including publication in a highly-respected journal, independent peer review and approval by legal experts.

Rogge said he remained cautious because of the experience of the 1996 Atlanta Games, where seven athletes tested positive for the stimulant bromantan.

The results were thrown out by the Court of Arbitration for Sport because the bromantan test was finalized only three weeks before the games and had not been scientifically approved.

``Four months later, the test was accepted,'' Rogge said. ``For me, it was a pain in the heart that we had to leave those seven athletes without punishment.''

On another issue, Rogge criticized Major League Baseball for failing to prohibit the use of androstenedione, the controversial substance used by Mark McGwire in 1998 when he hit a record 70 home runs.

Andro is included on the IOC's list of banned substances as a steroid, but Major League Baseball says more study is needed to determine whether it affects athletic performance.

``I can't understand why andro is still freely available over the counter in the U.S.,'' Rogge said. ``It's a precursor of anabolic steroids. It is forbidden in the rest of the world. It is potentially damaging to your health.''

The issue of drugs in Olympic baseball came to the fore Wednesday following confirmation that former Milwaukee Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson failed a test for the stimulant pseudoephedrine.

Ephedrine is not banned by either the U.S. or Japanese major leagues but is on the IOC's banned list.

Nilsson tested positive in November during the Intercontinental Cup in Sydney, where he was voted MVP of Australia's winning team. The ephedrine was contained in a dietary supplement Nilsson was taking.

The All-Star catcher left the Brewers to join the Chunichi Dragons in Japan so he can play for Australia in the Sydney Games.

Nilsson served a one-month suspension and remains eligible for the games, where pros will play for the first time.