Palmer dismisses drugs claims

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The man in charge of Britain's Olympic team, Dick Palmer, yesterday dismissed a claim that 75 per cent of athletes about to compete in Atlanta had used performance-enhancing drugs, writes Mike Rowbottom.

Palmer, general secretary of the British Olympic Association, said there was "no evidence" to support the allegations - made in last night's Panorama programme on BBC Television - by Mike Turner, the former British Olympic team doctor.

Turner, until recently deputy director of medical services at the British Olympic Association, said on the programme: "If you're talking about track and field, you're talking about a situation where the percentage may be 75 or above of Olympic athletes in Atlanta will have taken some kind of performance-enhancing drug.''

He also criticised the new high-tech testing equipment installed in Atlanta. Testing urine in competition, by and large, is a waste of time," he said. "People are using growth hormone, they're using blood doping, both of which are undetectable in competition urine testing.'' Turner added that athletes who cheat can use anabolic steroids during the off-season without being caught. "It's only the stupid or totally naive who are going to get caught in Atlanta," he said.

The BBC had ignored a threat from the British Athletic Federation to seek an injunction if a transcript of the programme were not delivered to them.

But the BAF spokesman, Tony Ward, said yesterday he understood British athletes were not the subject of the main allegations. "It is also my understanding that we come in for a certain amount of credit for our tough testing programme," Ward said.

Meanwhile the Australian sprinter Dean Capobianco, suspended after a positive drugs test, still has a chance of coming to Atlanta. The sprinter, who has struggled with his form in recent seasons, is reported to have tested positive for the steroid stanozolol and faces a possible four-year ban pending an independent hearing this week.

"His lawyers have told me that he is suspended from competition," the Australian team chief, John Coates, said yesterday. "But do I allow him to take his place in the [Olympic] village? I have an open mind on that matter.''

A second athlete planning to compete in the Games, the Italian high jumper Antonella Bevilacqua, is also facing a three-month ban after testing positive for ephedrine. Iran has become the latest country embroiled in pre-Games drugs controversy, dropping two members of the judo team and a weightlifter from their squad for Atlanta, it was reported.

The daily newspaper Abrar said the judokas Abbas Abdi and Mohammad Reza Tolouei and the weightlifter Shaheen Nassirnia were withdrawn from the Iranian squad after they tested positive for unspecified banned substances. This was the second doping scandal in Iran's Olympic team which expelled two Greco-Roman wrestlers in April for similar violations.

It leaves 18 athletes in the squad, including the target shooter Lida Fariman, Iran's first woman participant in the Olympic games since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Polly Toynbee, main paper, page 15