Leading article: Time to banish drugs from sport

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ANYONE THINKING that the days of hearing commentators praise "powerful" female East German shot-putters and "muscular" Bulgarian pentathletes had passed will be disappointed. The farce of the Tour de France was a warning. Now the Australian delegation to an emergency meeting of the International Olympic Committee, fearing scandal at the Sydney Games in 2000, have recommended excluding certain sports, within which drug-taking seems endemic, from the games. This comes only weeks after the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, announced himself to be in favour of some relaxation of the rules.

Certain sports, such as cycling and swimming, are riddled with drugs. In others, such as athletics, drug-taking is more widespread than the numbers caught would lead us to suppose. Certain nations also stand accused, as the IOC medical commission chairman's attack on Spain reveals.

Samaranch's controversial argument is that some drugs, especially medicines containing small amounts of banned substances, are simply another way of enhancing performance. Athletes adopt better training shoes and better diet, so why not better drugs? But the use of external aids is not the same as changing the performance of the body itself, since Olympic glory is, essentially, the struggle to better that body. Taking drugs is cheating, since it gives that athlete an advantage over others. Who wants to see athletes from rich countries, junked up on steroids, outperform those from smaller nations who cannot afford them?

The Australians have their own problems; one of their athletes tested positive for drugs on Wednesday. But their proposals, for the IOC's February summit, are the best on the table; they include imposing fines on athletes, further integration of different federations' rules, a specialist IOC drugs agency and increased powers for police forces. Such ideas were discussed before the Atlanta games, and rejected. This time, there must be no backsliding.

out that, in this respect too, men and women are more equal than previously suspected. Shurely cause for shelebration, shishters?