Athletics: Drug users face life bans and $1m fines

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The Independent Online
ATHLETES FOUND guilty of using steroids could face life bans and fines of up to $1m (pounds 650,000) under new anti-doping proposals put forward by the International Olympic Committee in London yesterday.

A package of proposed drug sanctions, including a precise definition of doping, has been drawn up by a special IOC panel and will be presented to leaders of 35 international sports federations in Switzerland tomorrow. However, some leading Olympic officials say the proposals are too complicated and confuse the issue rather than solve it.

The IOC wants all federations to endorse a single medical code, embracing uniform drug rules, procedures and sanctions, in advance of the world anti-doping conference in Lausanne in February.

An IOC working group dealing with legal and ethical issues has come up with a proposed definition of doping as the basis for the fight against performance-enhancing drugs.

Doping is defined as one or both of the following:

n "use of an expedient substance or method potentially harmful to health and capable of enhancing the athlete's performance";

n "the presence in the athlete's body of a substance or evidence of a use of a method where such substance appears [on the IOC's list of banned substances]".

Gunnar Werner, the Swedish secretary of the international swimming federation, Fina, and a member of the IOC panel, said the proposal divides doping offences into two categories - "regular" and "aggravated" cases.

Werner said the latter were defined as "intentional doping," including attempts to mask or manipulate urine samples or refusal to take a drug test.

The package lists four types of penalties: disqualification from an event, a warning, suspension and fines.

In the so-called regular cases, sanctions for use of stimulants such as ephedrine would be punished by suspensions of one to six months. For more serious offences, the penalty would range from six months to two years.

For aggravated cases, the proposal calls for suspensions of two to eight years. If "intentional doping" with steroids is proven, a life ban is recommended.

The proposal calls for fines of up to $100,000 (pounds 60,000) for minor drug offenses and fines of up to $1m for serious infractions. Any third parties, such as doctors or coaches involved in supplying drugs to athletes, would also be liable to penalties.

Existing IOC guidelines are much simpler, recommending a maximum two- year suspension for athletes committing a first steroid offense. There is no provision for fines.

Even though Werner was on the IOC panel which drew up the proposals, he said he thought the measures were flawed. "As a lawyer, I understand the discussions, but it won't be so easy to apply it for those non-lawyers," he said. "This proposal is complicated, maybe a little too complicated."

He questioned the differentiation between doping and "intentional" doping. "How can anybody prove intentions?" he said. "How many cases of doping are not intentional?"

Werner also expressed concern that the proposals put the burden of proof in doping cases on the sports bodies. The federations would have to prove the athletes guilty, rather than the athletes proving their innocence.

"Now I can see every athlete saying, `This was not my sample, it was not my urine,' or whatever," Werner said. "We would have to prove that it is. It's my opinion that in steroids and more severe drugs like human growth hormone, the burden of proof should be shifted to the athlete."

In New York, the fight against doping received a million dollar boost from the White House. The US drug "czar", Barry McCaffrey, pledged that amount in federal funding for research to purge Olympic sports of all banned substances, from marijuana to anabolic steroids.

McCaffrey also called on the IOC to set up an independent anti-drug office, award medals to athletes cheated by doping and insist that every Olympic sport use and enforce the same drug rules.