Athletics: IOC expert's drug abuse claim

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DRUGS are taken by one in 10 athletes, according to Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the International Olympic Committee's Medical Commission.

In an interview with News Olympics, the official publication of the Belgian Olympic Committee, which was released yesterday, De Merode, who has been an IOC member for more than 25 years, said he believed that 10 per cent of athletes are regular substance abusers.

He also questioned China's performance in finishing fourth in the overall medal table for the Barcelona Olympics. 'China is often cited as a nation where everything is possible. Perhaps that is so - and there are far too few controls (there),' he said.

China, which was known to have taken on a number of coaches from the discredited East German sporting regime, won 54 medals, including 16 gold - a figure surpassed only by the Unified Team of the former Soviet republics, the United States and Germany.

Just over four years ago, in the wake of Ben Johnson's positive drug test at the Seoul Olympics, the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, announced: 'This is not a disaster, for it shows the IOC is very serious, and that we are winnning the battle for a clean Games. The gap betweeen our aims and those who are cheating is narrowing.'

If De Merode's speculation is correct, that gap is widening again; or perhaps never narrowed in the first place.

The figure contrasts sharply with the number of athletes caught abusing drugs in last summer's Olympics. Five were caught in Barcelona from a field of 9,366 athletes. That was five fewer than were detected four years earlier.

De Merode said that random, out-of-competition, testing needed to be improved. 'The system doesn't work,' he said. 'Some (national) federations make gigantic efforts while others do nothing.'

While applauding De Merode's statements about the need to improve testing procedures, Frank Dick, Britain's chief coach, decried the vagueness of the statements. 'I think it is irresponsible of someone in his position to come out with something like this without providing facts and figures,' he said. 'Let's name names. Otherwise its the sort of guesswork you might indulge in over a pint at the bar.'